Brooklyn hospitals dominate state, city and Brooklyn agenda on Tuesday
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn’s hospital crisis dominated New York’s political and legal process on Tuesday as judges considered the fates of teetering Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital (LICH), Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the creation of a Brooklyn Health Authority, and Governor Andrew Cuomo blamed the federal government for not releasing the Medicaid Waiver funds that could save the borough’s threatened hospitals.
The day started with yet another protest, as supporters of both Interfaith and LICH, despite frigid temperatures, gathered on the steps of federal Bankruptcy Court in Downtown Brooklyn. Speaker after speaker called on Gov. Cuomo to act.
Sharonnie Perry, chairwoman of Interfaith Medical Center’s community advisory board, demanded that Cuomo to “do the right thing” and save Bedford-Stuyvesant’s only hospital.
Susan Raboy, spokesperson for Patients for LICH, warned that lives in northwestern Brooklyn were at stake. “Cuomo, are you listening?” she asked.
By afternoon, LICH advocates agreed to one final postponement of their much-anticipated contempt hearing against SUNY and the Department of Health as a new settlement proposal with SUNY was hashed out in state Supreme Court before Justice Johnny Lee Baynes. (See statement below.)
A block away in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig, following a weekend filled with protests and fingerpointing over a never-delivered $3.5 million from the state, ordered Interfaith’s stakeholders and creditors back to the table for mediation.
Chaos had erupted on Friday when Interfaith’s CEO Patrick Sullivan, citing lack of funds, ordered ambulances diverted from Interfaith’s emergency room. Protesters flocked to the hospital, and Sullivan left the premises under guard. Control of Interfaith was assumed by Chief Medical Officer Pradeep Chandra, and ambulances began to roll again that night.
Advocates for Interfaith are protesting the state’s demand that the ailing hospital turn over its clinics to Kingsborough Jewish Medical Center before the state releases the promised funding.
As the crisis was playing out in Brooklyn, Governor Cuomo, in his 2014-2015 budget address on Tuesday, cast the blame for the mess onto the federal government, which has been dragging its feet on a $10 billion Medicaid waiver request the state made 18 months ago. “We need Health and Human Services to act . . . to keep these hospitals open,” Cuomo said.
Singling out Brookdale, Interfaith and LICH as being close to folding, Cuomo said, “We have been propping up the system for 18 months while waiting for the waiver. We need it now. There is truly a crisis in Brooklyn.”
“Our budget does not have the resources to keep these hospitals open without this waiver,” he added.
Backing up the Governor, Health Commissioner Nirav Shaw said that eight Brooklyn hospitals are in “financial distress, and three risk closing” if the federal government fails to act soon. “Without the waiver, the promise of healthcare reform will not be fulfilled.”
Also on Tuesday, as Mayor Bill de Blasio named Ram Raju to lead New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., he said that his proposed “Brooklyn Health Authority” would bring state and city players together to help solve the problems at LICH, Interfaith and other cash-strapped hospitals.
“Let’s face it, major decisions about healthcare institutions have been happening in this city over the last decade, based on no plan whatsoever. Let’s be blunt about this, hospitals have been closing for very individual reasons without a public transparent process, without a larger strategy in place, and that has to end,” the Mayor said.
He added, “Right now we are actively engaged, in terms of Long Island College Hospital, in terms of Interfaith Hospital to begin with, in trying to create an actual working relationship between the city and the state for the common goal of preserving community healthcare. HHC certainly is one of the resources that we bring to the table. But the bigger goal here is to actually get the city and state on the same page consistently, and make sure in each case that we’re addressing local healthcare needs as these decisions are made.”
Locally, LICH supporters on Tuesday agreed to extending the standstill agreement with SUNY. Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, attorney for members of the LICH coalition, issued a statement regarding the contempt proceedings against SUNY, which have already been postponed several times.
The statement in its entirety reads:
“On behalf of the six community groups involved in litigation with the State University of New York regarding the future of Long Island College Hospital—Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants’ Association, and Wykoff Gardens Association, Inc.—we announce that our motion for contempt against SUNY and its Board of Trustees will be heard on February 11, 2014.
“Although we were fully prepared to start the contempt proceeding today—and worked through the long weekend to organize the many witnesses and documents, which together paint a compelling picture of at least 11 instances of SUNY’s willful violations of the Courts’ orders, including orders issued by the Appellate Division for the Second Department—we agreed to a final postponement to allow the community and unions time to respond to a new settlement proposal from SUNY.
Walden continued, “We are grateful to Justice Johnny Lee Baynes for allowing the parties to try to come to a solution, while preserving the community’s right to seek contempt sanctions. The details of the settlement proposal are confidential. However, we demanded that SUNY extend the protections of the existing standstill agreement, so that medical services will continue at their existing level, and we advised the Court that, if SUNY’s Board of Trustees were to vote to award a contract based on the existing RFP—which was not designed to seek a hospital operator—we would amend our papers to add such approval as another act of contempt.”
“Much work remains if a settlement is possible. It has been said that people do not learn from their first mistake, nor from their second or third, but only when given a last chance. We hope to look back some day and say that, in the end, SUNY did right by the community.
“We are pleased that many elected officials are fighting alongside the community. We wish to thank these elected officials for coming together to lead the fight to find a solution to the complicated issues surrounding LICH. In particular, we thank our co-petitioner, Public Advocate Letitia James, for her leadership and resolve. We are grateful that she is joined by a large group of elected officials, who are attempting to help sustain LICH. We wish to thank the following elected officials for their constructive and dedicated input to the process: Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez State Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Daniel Squadron State Assembly Members James Brennan and Joan Millman Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams City Council Members Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Carlos Menchaca District Leader Jo Anne Simon.
“Needless to say, we could not have reached this point without the bold actions of our former Public Advocate, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and we are grateful for his courageous leadership fighting for our community hospitals.”