OPINION: Let LICH live!
On March 19, the State University of New York voted again to approve the closure of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH), arguing that it is underutilized by patients.
That’s news to Awilda Montes, a scrub nurse who has worked in LICH’s operating room for the past 13 years. “This place is packed,” says Montes. “We are always busy.”
In fact, many of SUNY’s claims about LICH do not align with reality. Contrary to misinformation from SUNY, we believe the hospital could remain viable – and even thrive – with the right planning, management and vision. Sadly, despite multiple requests from the State Comptroller and others, SUNY has not publicly released even a basic business plan for the hospital.
This inability to see LICH’s potential is shockingly short-sighted. LICH is in a growing neighborhood and doctors and other caregivers report that the hospital is most often at nearly full operational bed capacity. The Barclays Center, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal are drawing tens of thousands of new residents and visitors to the area.
The hospital is already highly utilized by local residents. According to the most recent data available, LICH served 56% of ER patients from Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, 38% from the area around Cobble Hill, and 34% from Brooklyn Heights. Over a third of LICH’s patients have private insurance, the second highest rate in Brooklyn. LICH provides crucial emergency services, obstetrics and pediatrics to the area, and was recently rated by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best hospitals in Brooklyn.
LICH’s problems have little to do with patient under-utilization, and everything to do with botched financial management. LICH’s accounting system has been faulted by the State Comptroller’s office and costs the hospital up to $17 million a year. In 2011, over $43 million in bills were sitting with the billing department, unprocessed.
Many suspect that SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which runs LICH and has been criticized by the Comptroller’s office for poor financial management, is trying to close the hospital to sell off its valuable real estate and help Downstate’s own, more troubled bottom line.
For Awilda, SUNY’s efforts to close LICH are especially frustrating because she has a deep personal investment in the future of the hospital. Like many of the 2,200 staff at LICH, she is not only a caregiver, but also a patient. One of her daughters was born in the busy obstetrics department, and her mother and other family members are among the 100,000 patients a year who use the hospital.
Perhaps SUNY’s worst corruption of the truth came during their last court appearance when they argued that “further delay in the closure of LICH will… risk serious patient safety issues.” Delaying the closure of this vital hospital does not put patients at risk, it protects them.
According to Awilda, “Closing LICH will hurt the surrounding community, but much worse, our patients will lose access to care.” Indeed, the next nearest hospital is almost two miles away, a ten minute drive without traffic, which could mean the difference between life and death.
The Department of Health, elected officials, staff and community leaders must continue to work together and explore every possible alternative solution, including new ownership, which would keep Long Island College Hospital, and the patients it serves, alive.