LICH supporters want fines and jail time for SUNY officials
By Mary Frost
Long Island College Hospital (LICH) supporters will have to wait a little bit longer for their long-awaited day in court.
Twice-delayed contempt proceedings against the State University of New York (SUNY), its trustees, the state Department of Health and others, scheduled for Tuesday, January 21 before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes have been postponed at least one day, according to the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA).
“As of now, Tuesday will be a court conference to discuss procedural issues and report on settlement talks, and the contempt hearing will start Wednesday at the earliest,” BHA said in a statement. BHA is one of six community groups that joined unions, patients, doctors and elected officials in a ferocious year-long fight to keep LICH open.
Advocates, who want Justice Baynes to impose fines and jail time on SUNY and Health Department officials, say they intend to march from LICH and rally outside the courthouse Tuesday morning.
SUNY and its financially-ailing University Medical Center (SUNY Downstate) in East Flatbush, which took over LICH two years ago, stand accused of a shocking number of violations in their rush to close LICH, which is sitting on valuable real estate in Cobble Hill. SUNY plans to sell the property to a developer.
The alleged violations range from refusing to admit patients to firing doctors, padlocking units, diverting ambulances and intimidating staff and patients with armed guards.
“It is clear that SUNY and the DOH will not obey any order of this Court,” LICH supporters said in court papers. They are asking Justice Baynes to find SUNY et al. “in civil contempt and to assess fines of $250,000 per day until such time as LICH is fully operational and provides the same level of services it provided on April 1, 2013.” They are also asking the court to hold individual government officials personally accountable, “and consider whether to imprison SUNY and DOH officials to compel compliance with the Court’s orders.”
Besides SUNY, the accused include all 14 SUNY trustees: H. Carl McCall, Joseph Belluck, Herrick Dullea, Angelo Fatta, Tina Good, Stephen Hunt, Eunice A. Lewin, Marshall Lichtman, John Murad, Linda Sanford, Richard Socarides, Carl Spielvogel, Cary Staller, and Gerri Warren-Merrick.
The list also includes SUNY Downstate’s President John F. Williams, the NYS Department of Health (DOH), Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, SUNY Downstate’s Chief Medical Officer Michael Lucchesi, SUNY Downstate Interim CEO George Caralis, and SUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor and General Counsel William Howard.
LICH supporters involved in the contempt action include the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants Association, Wykoff Gardens Association, Inc., the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), 1199 SEIU and Concerned Physicians of LICH.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has also been deeply involved in the fight to keep LICH open. De Blasio, when serving as Public Advocate, was arrested while marching for the hospital, which serves a swath of fast-growing Brooklyn neighborhoods from Red Hook to Williamsburg, including Downtown Brooklyn.
On April 1, 2013, the court issued the first of seven orders requiring SUNY to maintain services at LICH at certain levels, and temporarily restrained SUNY from taking “any action in furtherance of the closure plan” it had submitted to DOH.
SUNY allegedly violated the orders on an almost daily basis.
Before the summer began, SUNY cancelled LICH’s residency and fellowship program, ended labor and delivery services, cancelled non-ambulatory surgeries, closed LICH’s outpatient psychiatric clinic, and stopped scheduling medical procedures.
In June, despite another court order, SUNY terminated ambulance delivery, jamming ERs across Brooklyn and plunging western Brooklyn into a summer-long crisis. Service was partially restored in September, but SUNY diverted ambulances again, temporarily, in November.
Over the summer, LICH advocates say, SUNY continued to cut services, padlock units, and transfer patients from LICH against the considered opinion of the medical staff.
Also over the summer, SUNY illegally sent notices of termination to 6,500 patients of LICH’s clinics. SUNY fired physicians and repeatedly sent termination notices to nurses and other healthcare workers.
Following a murky RFP (Request for Proposals) process, SUNY announced that it planned to sell LICH to Fortis Property Group for development into condos. Fortis said it planned to lease some of the property to ProHealth for a “medical mall.” In December, SUNY’s Academic Medical Centers and Hospital Committee put the Fortis proposal on hold.
Recently, SUNY amended the Fortis proposal, saying NYU-Langone and Lutheran Medical Center would offer outpatient medical services including a free-standing emergency department, though no inpatient hospital beds.
Brooklyn Hospital has also been fighting for a piece of the pie, offering a plan to develop apartments and offering outpatient medical services and a free-standing ED, though no hospital.
Brooklyn officials are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo for a redo of the RFP. Advocates want to limit applicants to those planning to maintain a full-service hospital.