Following yesterday’s impromptu protest of SUNY’s rumored plan to shutter Long Island College Hospital (LICH) this weekend, by cancelling all surgeries beyond Monday and restricting new patient admissions, LICH supporters and elected officials rallied again outside the hospital at 339 Hicks Street in Cobble Hill, continuing their calls on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state, city and borough courts to intervene.
“Keep the pressure on SUNY and Governor Cuomo to find a new operator and keep LICH open for care,” exhorted the NY State Nurses Association (NYSNA) in an email.
“For six months, SUNY has been claiming it has to close LICH. And for six months everyone – the state, the courts, health care providers, the community, and all of Brooklyn – have said absolutely not,” said a joint coalition of elected officials in a statement. “SUNY has resorted to rogue, unlawful tactics. They are depriving Brooklynites of care and risking lives. It’s time for an independent overseer for LICH, which the state and the court must insist on.”
The statement was issued by State Senator Daniel Squadron, Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Assemblymember Joan Millman, Councilmember Brad Lander and Councilmember Stephen Levin.
For its part, the hospital’s operator, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, denies that they are planning to close LICH this weekend (July 20-21), as the state Department of Health must approve such a move.
However, LICH staff say they are being told by administrators that equipment will be removed and patients transferred this weekend, following the closure of the Operating Room. SUNY Downstate spokesperson Robert Bellafiore denied, in a written statement, that patients are being forcibly transferred or that any equipment was being removed or sold, confirming only that surgeries are being rescheduled at different medical locations around the borough.
LICH currently has 18 patients left, added Bellafiore, citing this dwindling patient list and LICH’s financial unprofitability — losing a reported $15 million a month — as the reason why they have repeatedly submitted closure plans to the state Department of Health.
SUNY’s latest closure plan is still being reviewed by the DOH. The plan includes selling LICH for hospital and/or real estate development, creating a Brooklyn hospital network, and streamlining SUNY Downstate’s teaching hospital at the University Hospital of Brooklyn.
Just this week, SUNY published formal letters of interest from seven potential buyers of LICH.
“LICH has lost money for nearly 18 years in a row and simply does not generate enough revenue to maintain the status the quo,” wrote Bellafiore.
On June 27, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Demarest ordered SUNY to provide a full account of their management of LICH funds and assets over the two-plus years they have run the hospital. They have until August 5 to submit that account.
LICH supporters see the low patient numbers differently, as a result of ambulances being diverted away from the hospital and several departments and care units being closed.
“We are astonished that in the face of a clear [court] order to maintain operations at LICH, Downstate management has issued directives to divert ambulances and transfer patients from LICH,” said Toomas Sorra, MD, President of Concerned Physicians of LICH in a June 20 statement.
State Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes also renewed a temporary restraining order against any alteration to LICH’s ability to serve as a full-serve hospital.
SUNY maintains that by closing departments and diverting ambulances, they are “not in violation of any court order whatsoever” because their lawyers have appealed the restraining order, allegedly making it invalid until a decision is made on the appeal.