Judge issues surprise ruling to SUNY Downstate: return LICH to previous owner or find a new manager

In a major surprise ruling  that seemingly came out of nowhere, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest today (Tuesday, August 20) ordered SUNY Downstate to hand over Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to its previous owner, Continuum Health Partners, as soon as is possible. Should Continuum not want LICH, then SUNY is to give the 156-year-old Cobble Hill hospital to a new manager/operator.

SUNY Downstate spokesperson Robert Bellafiore said in a statement that  they “will comply with the Court’s order to maintain the status quo as of July 19th 4 p.m. as we continue to work toward a settlement to resolve all the issues. ”

However, Continuum issued a statement in response saying that they are unable to take LICH back. “Upon due consideration, Continuum respectfully concludes that we cannot reassume management of LICH and is unable to take responsibility for the hospital’s operations,” they wrote.

The next step is for SUNY to find a new operator, which they have already been in the process of doing as part of their sustainability plan. However, now they may not be selling the property–instead transferring management in an effort to stall any further financial losses.

SUNY stated that they have “poured millions of dollars into LICH in an attempt to reverse nearly two decades of financial losses” but “unfortunately, SUNY and LICH became victims of the daunting realities of Brooklyn’s health care delivery landscape. We are disappointed it did not work, but it was not for lack of effort.”

According to Demarest, SUNY only lost approximately $30 million out of an expected $144.4 million since purchasing LICH in 2011.

Demarest’s ruling comes mere days after fellow Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ordered SUNY to immediately restore patient services to levels last seen on July 19, and to remove the armed security that had been patrolling in and around the hospital, located at 339 Hicks Street.

LICH was sold to SUNY Downstate in 2011, but has since been the subject of a tug-of-war and spirited protests and debates between its operator, SUNY Downstate, and hospital staff, patients, community members and politicians, over SUNY’s desire to close the hospital and sell the land and/or facilities.

SUNY’s sustainability plan, filed with the state Department of Health in May, includes plans to hand over management of LICH to one of several potential new owners, and to create a new Brooklyn hospital network.

This is the latest news in the legal battle between SUNY and LICH supporters, including legal teams from the NY State Nurses Association, 1199 SEIU, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo responded to the ruling by saying: “Once again, the Court has ruled that SUNY must stop creating chaos for Brooklyn patients and must keep LICH open for care. SUNY has violated every single court order that they have received up until now. They need to stop disrespecting the law and stop hurting care for Brooklyn patients. Nurses and caregivers are ready to care for patients at LICH.”

Local politicians such as de Blasio and State Senator Daniel Squadron issued reactions stating their delight at the news.

“SUNY tried to padlock this hospital four weeks ago. We’ve watched it violate court orders in broad daylight,” said de Blasio. “Now, the court is putting all that to an end. These steps will ensure this community will have continuity of care for the immediate future.”

“Today’s ruling is further confirmation that we must keep LICH open until a new operator is in place,” wrote Squadron. “There are solutions to preserve LICH and they must not be left on the table. This ruling provides an opportunity to reach a solution and prevent SUNY from simultaneously shutting down vital services. I look forward to working with the community and all stakeholders to do so.”

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