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Judge puts SUNY Downstate on hold: An analysis of Judge Baynes’ LICH decision

March 14, 2013 By Charisma Miller Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes has ordered that Long Island College Hospital remain open — for now –after a hotly contested attempt to close it. LICH, an affiliate of SUNY Downstate, was slated to close after the SUNY Board of Trustees determined that the hospital was losing too much money to remain functional.

Not making a decision about the validity of the need to shut down LICH, Baynes criticized the board’s violation of the Open Meetings Law that, he said, was “created to mandate transparency in the operation of government and its entities. In this way, the public is informed and decision-making cannot occur in secret.”

The board was not “unsophisticated,” Baynes noted. “They have acknowledged their obligations under the Open Meetings Law.”

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As the Daily Eagle has previously reported, the lawsuit, filed by organizations that represent the doctors, nurses and other employees of LICH, alleged that the SUNY Board of Trustees held a “show public hearing” after an executive session at which the board had already decided the fate of LICH, and that the board had provided inadequate notice about the meeting.  Justice Baynes agreed.
“The notice [in this case] was flawed and failed to meet the transparency requirements of the Open Meetings Law,” Baynes wrote. “In fact,” Baynes continued, “the vagueness…here, in conjunction with the skeletal statement of purpose in the written agenda for the meeting of the Committee, seems intentionally designed to shield the purpose of the meetings from the general public and obstruct the transparency required by the Open Meetings Law.”

“This ruling validates what nurses have been saying all along: SUNY acted unlawfully and irresponsibly when they voted to close our community hospital,” said Jill Furillo, RN, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association. “We’re going to keep working together to build a powerful coalition to protect Brooklyn patients and keep LICH open for care.”

“LICH is open for care, and patients, neighbors and staff vow to do whatever it takes to keep this vital hospital open, including continued community actions, lobbying lawmakers and exploring further legal strategies,” said George Gresham, president of Local 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “We cannot allow the destruction of healthcare access and good jobs in Brooklyn.”

However, the SUNY Downstate Board of Trustees said, “We strongly disagree with the court’s interpretation of the events surrounding the Board of Trustees vote, and the ruling hinges on a procedural technicality and does not question SUNY or Downstate’s legal ability to seek closure for LICH.

“ Since time is of the essence, next week the Board will re-consider the recommendation [hold a vote at a public meeting] to submit a closure plan to the Department of Health. SUNY Downstate is in a financial crisis. We are working diligently to preserve medical education, high quality patient care, and thousands of jobs for the Brooklyn community.”
While the ruling is a victory for those wishing LICH remain open, Baynes did not prevent SUNY’s Board from closing LICH in the future. Baynes left open the possibility for SUNY to make movement toward closing LICH so long as “they comply with the mandates of the Open Meetings Law and all other applicable statutory provisions.”

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