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Town Hall: Public cry for help from ‘mismanaged’ SUNY Downstate

The State University of New York (SUNY) is looking for ideas from the public about ways to save financially troubled SUNY Downstate Medical Center, shown. Wikipedia photo by Jim Henderson

LICH could play key saving role in 'Sustainability Plan'

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Long Island College Hospital  (LICH) could be a doomed tug attached to a sinking ship, or the engine that pulls it to a safe port. That's the view of some community leaders who believe in LICH's potential, if properly managed –- and they hope to get their vision across at a Town Hall meeting scheduled for May 20.

The State University of New York (SUNY) scheduled the meeting to solicit ideas from the public about ways to save financially troubled SUNY Downstate Medical Center in East Flatbush.

SUNY Downstate, which has been losing money since 2007, must deliver a “Sustainability Plan” to the State Department of Health and the Governor’s Division of the Budget by June 1, and begin implementing it on June 15.

LICH, in Cobble HIll, has been tethered to the floundering behemoth since SUNY took it over two years ago. Any plans presented to save SUNY must also lay out the future of LICH.

After being rebuffed in its efforts to close LICH and cash in on its valuable Brownstone property, SUNY issued a public Request for Information (RFI) on May 1 to signal its intent to find another hospital operator or health care provider.  RFI responses are due May 22.

Assemblywoman Joan Millman told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday that the Town Hall was a positive move. “They said they were going to do it and they kept their word.”

But she said she was disappointed at the timing of the meeting. “All the state people are in Albany the whole week.”

"SUNY's withdrawal of its closure plan creates a real opportunity for a collaborative process that engages the community and local leaders on LICH and Downstate's future,” Senator Daniel Squadron said. “I urge all Brooklynites to participate in the Town Hall and make their voices heard loud and clear on why LICH is vital to our community, our borough, and our city."

Roy Sloane, President of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle, “My main concern is that this is a genuine Town Hall meeting, not just papering over their hasty closing plan.

“There needs to be a comprehensive solution,” Sloan said. “SUNY Downstate is drowning, and is grabbing any life preserver. Selling LICH does not in any way address these issues. There’s not even any proof that LICH is actually losing money; they’ve provided no figures.” Sloane said that many physicians at LICH felt that the hospital has been solvent for at least the past three months.

“You’d need a forensic accountant to go through their numbers . . . But there’s no question SUNY is hemorrhaging fiercely,” he said.

Rather than closing LICH, “It’s possible that LICH could be their salvation,” Sloane said. With SUNY Downstate’s “crumbling physical plant,” many doctors might rather see private pay patients at LICH, with “16 of the most modern operating suites in Brooklyn.”

State comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released an audit in January showing a series of “poor financial decisions” has put Downstate on a path toward insolvency, and possibly bankruptcy.

In a public letter, Dr. John F. Williams, President of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said, “It is clear that Downstate needs a critical restructuring that will allow it to continue serving the community.”

He said that SUNY has already taken several actions, including bringing in new management, engaging consultants to come up with a restructuring plan, authorizing a $75 million SUNY loan, and requesting -- but not receiving -- a $150 million loan from the state.

In his letter, Williams made the case for Downstate: “Downstate Medical Center really matters to Brooklyn. As its only academic medical center, we make a tremendous difference in the lives of the borough’s 2.5 million residents, training the medical and health professional workforce and providing quality health care for over 150 years.”

Downstate trains more physicians practicing in New York City than any other medical school and has one of the highest rates of graduates who practice in underserved areas, Williams said.

Those wishing to comment at the Town Hall will get three minutes, and should visit www.suny.edu/hospitals/downstate/

Registration can be done in person at the Town Hall Meeting prior to the starting time, or by e-mailing hospitalsustainabilityplan@suny.edu with the speaker’s name, e-mail address, and phone number.

 The Town Hall Meeting will begin with a brief presentation from SUNY and Downstate officials, followed by comments from interested elected officials. All registered speakers will then be called upon in the order in which they have registered. Extended, written testimony may also be submitted to hospitalsustainabilityplan@suny.edu

May 15, 2013 - 6:10pm


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