Supporters of Long Island College Hospital celebrated a small victory Friday after a judge said that his decision halting any move to close LICH remains in place until he makes a final ruling.
Supreme Court of Kings County Judge Johnny Lee Baynes promised a decision soon, although he did not specify a date or timeframe. In the meantime, “the stay remains in full force and effect,” he said, meaning that SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which owns LICH, can make no move to close the hospital.
LICH’s supporters, including nurses, workers and patients, came out by the dozens Friday morning to show their support. Before the hearing, they were joined in a press conference on the courthouse steps by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and the LICH area’s city and state representatives; City Councilman Brad Lander and State Senator Daniel Squadron.
“I speak for all of Brooklyn when I say, that our priority is to save this hospital. What is more important than health?” Markowitz said. He went on to call for a search for new management for LICH.
The hospital has been losing money for years, which LICH supporters attribute to poor external management and a lack of bill collection by Continuum Health Partners, LICH’s former owner and current bill collector.
SUNY Downstate’s Board of Trustees decided to close LICH at a two day meeting in early February in order to shore up the rest of SUNY Downstate’s hospitals. The property LICH sits on has been valued in the hundreds of millions.
The New York State Nurses Association, 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East union and Concerned Physicians of LICH last month petitioned to vacate the decision and have been protesting the closure ever since. They contend that SUNY Downstate’s Board of Trustees violated the state Open Meetings law when it made the decision to close LICH by improperly holding an executive session during open hearings on the hospital’s potential closure.
In court, SUNY Downstate was represented by in-house council and by two lawyers from the state Attorney General’s office. New York State Assistant Attorney General Steven Banks told Judge Baynes that LICH supporters had ample opportunity to speak at the public hearing. “They got their say before the SUNY Board of Trustees,” Banks said.
Banks also said that the final authority to close LICH rested not with the Board of Trustees but with SUNY Downstate’s President, Dr. John Williams. He contended that the Board of Trustees merely gave a recommendation rather than a final opinion; meaning that any court decision should not be able to stop the closure.
Speaking for LICH’s supporters, attorney Richard Seltzer told the judge that every description in the press and elsewhere of the Board of Trustee’s decision was phrased as an ‘approval’ rather than a recommendation.
“They admitted that they were reviewing the decision,” Seltzer said of SUNY Downstate during an impromptu press conference after the hearing.
Dr. Alice Garner, clinical leader of LICH’s neonatal intensive care unit, told reporters she was pleased the hospital remains in business, at least for now, and that she was certain LICH will endure. “I am confident,” she said, “because the people of Brooklyn continue to need us to give them care.”