The drama continues for anyone affiliated with Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This week saw multiple protests and rallies in Brooklyn and Manhattan, a “funeral march” across the Brooklyn Bridge, more cutbacks and restrictions on patient services, another Brooklyn State Supreme Court temporary restraining order, State Health Department approval of SUNY’s proposal to close LICH, seven offers from potential buyers for LICH, a lawsuit against SUNY, restriction of services at LICH’s Operating Department, staff termination letters, revelations that LICH/SUNY administrators used LICH-specific endowments to finance loans and other expenses, and dual investigations by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and State Attorney General’s office into possible criminal culpability by administrators.
Although some see the back-and-forth as only prolonging the inevitable closure and selling of LICH’s real estate, estimated at valuing over $500 million, LICH supporters show no signs of slowing down their social, political, and legal efforts to keep LICH—and other Brooklyn hospitals, such as Interfaith Medical Center—open.
For everyone involved in the Save LICH and Save Interfaith communities, “we know it’s a matter of life or death,” said Jeff Strabone, who is a board member of the Cobble Hill Association, which has been advocating on behalf of LICH for months.
“People will die in crowded emergency rooms or ambulances,” Strabone, who was one of 15 people arrested at a protest at SUNY’s Midtown offices on July 10. “This is a tipping point. It stoops with us. We’re not going to let it happen.”
“It’s time for an independent overseer for LICH, which the state and the court must insist on,” declared elected officials, the list of which include State Senator Daniel Squadron, Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Assemblymember Joan Millman, and Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin.
On July 24, it was announced that both Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes’ office and NYS AG Eric Schneiderman’s office are delving into whether SUNY Downstate is breaking state law by shutting down the ER and barring ambulances from bringing patients to LICH. If criminal culpability is found, then SUNY administrators could face jail time.
SUNY Downstate has denied allegations that they are breaking any laws or violating any of the multiple temporary restraining orders (TRO) that bar them from keeping LICH at full operations.
SUNY Downstate spokesperson Robert J. Bellafiore stated that “the hospital is not closing [as of yet]” since “no hospital in New York State can close without the approval of the Department of Health.”
However, the State Health Department has approved SUNY’s closure plan for LICH—although it is unknown whether that can be implemented as State Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes issued another TRO against closure.
“SUNY is not in violation of any court order whatsoever,” maintained Bellafiore. “The Temporary Restraining Order has been stayed by appeal.”
SUNY also argues that there is not enough LICH staff on hand to treat patients. However, LICH doctors and nurses dispute that claim. There are currently 80 nurses on duty for the 11 patients currently in the hospital’s 250 beds.
de Blasio has since sued SUNY Downstate for trying to close the facility without proper approval.
“This community has been lied to. At the same time SUNY and the Governor [Andrew Cuomo] promised everything possible was being done to save LICH, they were preparing to sell it off to the highest bidder,” said de Blasio. “SUNY is violating a court order to keep this hospital open, and we won’t let it stand. The same luxury condos being put up over St. Vincent’s will soon rise over LICH if we don’t stop this in its tracks.”
NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo maintained that “We have doctors nurses staff there waiting to take care of patients. “We think patients are at risk in Brooklyn. . . This is the worst time ever to be closing down that hospital which needs to be open for patients.”