Hands out awards to LICH supporters
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Groups and individuals working to save Long Island College Hospital (LICH) from closure by SUNY Downstate were presented with awards and heartfelt applause at the Cobble Hill Association’s (CHA) Fall General Meeting, held at the Cobble Hill Health Center on Monday night.
Declared to be “Cobble Hill Heroes” were attorneys Jim Walden and Adam Cohen of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Dr. Toomas Sorra and Dr. John Romanelli of the Concerned Physicians of LICH; and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).
SUNY Downstate had refused to make meeting space available “to discuss the community’s urgent health needs,” pointed out Roy Sloane, CHA president. The crowd of 182 attendees overflowed into the hallways.
With the theme, “What the Heck Is Going On at LICH?” nearly the entire evening was devoted to updating the community on the state of legal actions brought to save LICH. Attendees were also brought up to date about Monday’s decision by SUNY to temporarily drop their plans to lay off 500 LICH employees.
CHA’s Jeff Strabone sounded an optimistic note. “I’m amazed at all we’ve done. We’re still winning in court.” He praised the work of attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “Now I know why his firm is ranked number one in litigation.”
Strabone summarized key legal events for the crowd, including state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest’s May 2011 approval of SUNY’s acquisition of LICH, and her August 2013 move to vacate that decision.
He explained subsequent legal wrangling, including the issues before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, and Justice Baynes’ ruling that found the Department of Health’s procedure to close hospitals was “unconstitutionally vague.”
The irony of SUNY’s recent declaration that it would lay off 500 LICH employees was “sickening,” Strabone said, in light of the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. “LICH came to Red Hook” after Sandy’s devastation, Strabone said. “Are they going to come from Methodist [Hospital]?”
Regarding the possibility of criminal proceedings against SUNY, Strabone said, “The Cobble Hill Association is very interested in pursuing criminal proceedings.”
Despite SUNY’s protestations to the contrary, “In 2012 SUNY did appraisals of LICH’s real estate value,” Strabone said. He noted SUNY’s own comment in the New York State Comptroller's January 2013 audit valuing LICH’s “Property Plant and Equipment” at $280-$500 million, “which results in assets exceeding liabilities.”
While saying CHA appreciated elected officials who attended rallies, Strabone praised Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in particular as a politician who “executed.”
Attorney Walden praised the solidarity of the community supporting LICH. “I’m happy to represent a community that knows how to stand together.” He credited the Concerned Physicians of LICH, 1199 Healthcare Workers and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). “If they had not acted in the beginning, we’d be out of the game,” Walden said. “Their lawyers laid the groundwork,” he said, calling Richard Seltzer’s (Cohen, Weiss and Simon) legal strategy “brilliant.”
Walden also praised Justices Demarest and Baynes, calling their decisions, “right on the law and courageous.”
The only way to enforce their orders, he added, “is to go for contempt.” Justice Baynes has scheduled a contempt hearing for November 18, Walden said. Walden said LICH supporters also looked to get an evidentiary hearing with Justice Demarest. “After an evidentiary hearing, Justice Demarest will rule on our motion.”
Walden said that despite past inaction, he believed the Governor’s Office “could still play a productive role,” and that LICH supporters “should be writing to the potential new District Attorney” for Brooklyn. “Hynes opened a criminal investigation, but it’s gone dormant. Let’s hope the new DA sees a clear case of a hospital run in violation of criminal law.”
Dr. Jon Berall, the court appointed ombudsman at LICH, told the crowd, “I’ve been on the job for seven weeks now. It was clear almost immediately that Justice Baynes’ August 16 order was not being followed. The hospital has been depleted of critical personnel.”
Justice Baynes’ order requires SUNY to keep staffing at services at the same level as July 19, but this has not been followed, Berall said. “On the 19th, there were seven attending anesthesiologists and eight anesthesiology residents. Now there is only one.”
“I meet regularly with Judge Thompson and am hearing about the search for new suitors. He told me there were 31 names on the list. Then it went down to 17 names. Last week, there were five names. What happened to the 31? Who made these decisions?”
Dr. Berall did list the five final suitors: They include Brooklyn Hospital; Lutheran Hospital; a Chinese group “that claims 200 doctors but it’s not clear where they are from;” and a group that calls itself Forten, but, “The judge doesn’t know who they represent.” He does not know the identity of the fifth group, he said.
Lutheran Hospital would only take over the clinic, according to Dr. Romanelli.
Dr. Berall described the tangled “bill” SUNY says LICH owes, including $120 million which has to go to state bond funds, and Othmer funds worth $140 million. “Then there’s $70 million for I’m not sure what, and a $153 million exit fee, which I’m assuming is going to SUNY somehow,” he said.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron said, “If SUNY’s looking for an exit fee, I’ll show them the door – for free.” He said the community was not looking to have “just a nice clinic or doctors offices. We’re looking to save this hospital.”
Eric Smith, speaking for NYSNA, said "Coalitions don't happen like this often." He called NYSNA members "natural leaders."
City Councilman Stephen Levin thanked all the plaintiffs -- “doctors, nurses, the community, de Blasio” -- for having faith in the process, and thanked the judiciary for “being responsive, digging deeper and looking with an inquisitive eye.”
Assemblywoman Joan Millman said she planned to "call the leadership in Albany and ask, 'Where is the governor?'" She also questioned where $90 million obtained for LICH during the Patterson administration went. "Someone should tell us who spent this money, and how." Referring to de Blasio's giant lead in the polls, Millman said, "Next Tuesday night we'll have a mayor who's on our side."
Dan Wiley, Community Coordinator for Nydia Velazquez, said that LICH was an important asset for Red Hook and the area's resiliency. "Red Hook was deemed a Health Professional Shortage Area," he said. LICH is also the hospital that serves the Cobble Hill health Center, which is "not viable without a hospital near by."
Catherine Zinnel of Councilman Brad Lander’s office said the Park's Department had given Lander assurance that SUNY's successor would have the same obligation to operate the playgrounds at LICH, "and expressed some openness to make them permanent parkland."
Other speakers representing NYSNA included attorney Claire Tuck. Also commenting was Jerry Armor, 76 Precinct Community Council President.