To avoid repeat of chaotic Long Island College Hospital closure

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State Sen. Daniel Squadron (at podium) and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (right) sponsored the LICH Act to prevent another chaotic hospital closing. Shown left: City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Photo by Mary Frost

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, called the Local Input in Community Healthcare (LICH) Act, is inching its way through both houses of the state legislature.

The bill would require an assessment of community health needs and more transparency when hospitals are threatened with closure. The measure is meant to ensure that what happened to Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) won’t play out at other hospitals across New York state.

Both officials represent the Brooklyn neighborhoods which fought for two years to stop the state from selling the 155-year-old hospital to developer Fortis Property Group.

LICH, located in Cobble Hill, served a swath of northwestern Brooklyn stretching from Williamsburg to Red Hook. Community groups, health care workers, patients and local officials engaged in rallies, marches, lawsuits and even arrests in their attempt to fight SUNY’s selloff of the hospital’s valuable real estate. At least one lawsuit, filed by the Concerned Physicians of LICH, is still in play.

On Tuesday, the Assembly version of the bill (A06417A) moved forward to the Ways and Means Committee. In the Senate, the bill (S2500-2015) passed the Health Committee in a bipartisan vote on April 22. It has moved on to the Finance Committee.

The measure was built around an earlier proposal by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

When the officials announced the bill in December, Squadron said the outcome at LICH was “one of the ugliest and most destructive fights that I have seen in my time in public service. It was a fight where there were no winners.”

The LICH Act would allow the state DOH commissioner to approve a hospital closure application only if the needs of the community and impacted stakeholders, including access to emergency medical care, were met. It would require a “significant and thorough community input process dictated by a statutorily imposed timeline,” Squadron said in a release.

At the Senate Standing Committee on Finance Q&A on May 5, related to the appointment of Howard Zucker as health commissioner, Squadron attempted to enlist Zucker’s interest in the bill.

The closure of LICH “cost the state millions of dollars, it cost my community vital health care, it cost important medical health care jobs – it was a disaster on every single front,” Squadron told Zucker.

“One of the big issues was the process the Department of Health went through,” Squadron added. “To say it wasn’t transparent is unfair to most black boxes. It was completely without any system or transparency.”

Zucker responded, “It’s not so much an issue of hospitals, it’s an issue of the system . . . How do we improve the healthcare system in general so that people have access to the care that they need? …It’s not an easy process and we recognize that things get a little disrupted, but I truly believe that when we are done, people in New York will be much happier for it and get better care.”

He ended by assuring Squadron that he’d take a look at the bill.

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