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Debate heats up among NY pols over Brooklyn hospitals in limbo

In his budget  address on Tuesday, January 21, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo waded into the heated debate over Brooklyn’s struggling hospitals by pinning their financial woes on the federal government’s 18-month delay in approving—or denying—New York’s request to spend $10 billion in Medicaid reform savings.

Cuomo’s budget plan allocates $1.2 billion for infrastructure improvements to hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and health care providers, but needs the waiver to be approved in order to provide a large portion of those funds. He claimed that “we need [Department of Health and Human Services] to act on our waiver now as we have no alternative.”

He was referring to the ongoing financial struggles of Interfaith Medical Center, Long Island College Hospital (LICH), and Brookdale Hospital. SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s fate is also in limbo as its fortunes and finances are in part influenced by what happens to LICH, which it owns and operates.

The state Department of Health (NYSDOH) ultimately has final say in whether a New York hospital closes or not.

Cuomo’s ultimatum comes after months of pressure from Brooklyn residents and supporters of Brooklyn hospitals, who, at protest rallies, often accused Cuomo of inaction.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been among those pushing the state for action and funding, whether by seeking support for his proposed Brooklyn hospital/healthcare reform plan or by filing legal appeals to SUNY and the state to halt Brooklyn hospital closures.

“Sometimes you watch the news and you see dire reports about hospitals [and] we’ve seen it again and again at Interfaith, and we’ve seen it again and again at Long Island College Hospital,” said de Blasio on Monday, January 20 during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Meanwhile, on the ground in Brooklyn, concern is more focused on the immediacy of postponed court dates, diverted ambulances and proposed sales of hospitals to real estate developers and healthcare providers.

The year-plus struggle over LICH’s fate continues as a planned January 21 contempt hearing is moved first to January 22 and then to February 11. The hearing is for Justice Johnny Lee Baynes of the Kings County Supreme Court to hear arguments over whether LICH operator SUNY Downstate violated court orders to keep LICH open and operating at regular staffing and service levels in the summer of 2013.

LICH also remains in the news with the ongoing competition between Fortis Property Group/NYU Langone/Lutheran and Brooklyn Hospital Center (BHC) over whose buyout/development plan for LICH should be chosen by the state, despite the fact that BHC’s proposal is not currently formally recognized as a valid proposal due to the fact that it was submitted four months after the September proposal deadline.

Interfaith Medical Center’s closure drama is also heating up. On Friday, January 17, the hospital diverted ambulances away from the hospital, reportedly in an effort to conserve its dwindling funds. That day also saw Interfaith CEO Patrick Sullivan get fired under pressure by employee unions.

Sullivan’s decision to divert ambulances reportedly prompted NYSDOH to cut state funds to the nearly-bankrupt hospital, and the state Dormitory Authority (DASNY) to file court documents stating that the hospital had defaulted on its financing agreement with the state.

However, Interfaith defenders rallied on January 21, arguing that DASNY had already filed documents on January 16 in an attempt to cut off funding, reportedly due to the hospital board voting to continue operating its own clinics instead of transferring them to Kingsbrook Medical Center on January 26.

NYSDOH and Cuomo had last month—right before Christmas—agreed to provide enough funding to keep the Bedford-Stuyvesant hospital open and operational until March 7.

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