Chuck Otey’s Pro Bono Barrister for July 15
Justices Demarest, Baynes seek truth in LICH closing
Thanks to the thoughtful and timely rulings of Kings Justices Carolyn Demarest and Johnny Lee Baynes, the people at State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center may finally be forced to disclose the truth behind their relentless machinations to close Long Island College Hospital.
Just about everyone around here knows that the heads of SUNY want to close the much-needed health facility to make way for even more expensive housing in the Cobble Hill-Heights area.
Instead of admitting this reality and arguing that a case can be made for shuttering LICH and replacing it with a nearby, smaller hospital, SUNY leaders have created more questions than they have answered. After all, SUNY is cash-strapped, as are all hospitals these days. Earning a few hundred million in profit from the “sale” would strengthen the entire system, they could say.
To their eternal discredit, however, the SUNY people have offered phony reasoning. They claim, for instance, that no lives would be endangered by forcing those living in five adjacent neighborhoods from finding medical care elsewhere. Lutheran Medical in Sunset Park, Maimonides in Borough Park or Methodist in Park Slope.
In an era where proper, life-saving medical care must often be delivered in less than 10 minutes to be effective, SUNY ignores reality. In this day and age where hospital emergency television shows regularly behold the wonders of prompt, life-saving procedures and equipment.
Scores of people have come forward to offer their testimonies about the critical role LICH has played in saving them and/or their loved ones. And there are sure to be hundreds more.
Justice Baynes started the legal ball rolling back in April when he issued a restraining order forbidding SUNY to take any further measures aimed at closing LICH.
Blatantly disregarding Justice Baynes’ directive SUNY reduced medical and support staff at LICH and actually ordered that all ambulances, carrying injured and dying people, be diverted from LICH to drive to other hospitals through city traffic miles away!
The hue and cry which went up from thousands of Brooklynites after this deadly stealth attack by SUNY did not escape the attention of Justice Carolyn Demarest. (Articles in this newspaper by Charisma Miller and Mary Frost have focused on the LICH crisis, providing an invaluable “inside” view from the jeopardized neighborhoods.)
Noting the “press coverage reciting continuing efforts to close” LICH despite the order of Justice Baynes, Justice Demarest has demanded a complete list of all personnel transferred from LICH to SUNY from May 29, 2011. This information, coupled with new SUNY signs on former LICH ambulances, will most likely show that SUNY has indeed been acting in bad faith.
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August Next Court Date Before Justice Demarest
Eventually a special prosecutor may be called in to ferret out the facts of this boondoggle, which seems indifferent to the cause of sound medical care. One item that will bear extra scrutiny is the puzzling “transfer” of $15 million from LICH to SUNY. How could a financially troubled institution such as LICH afford to pay such a sum when it was fully functioning and treating thousands of patients per month?
Justice Demarest will look closely at this shift of money from the LICH Liability Fund to determine whether it violated an extant order directing SUNY to take no steps to close LICH.
Will such a prosecutor be named? Or will some respected figure in the legal community — for instance retired Appellate Division Presiding Justice William Thompson — be brought in to resolve what is fast becoming an intractable problem?
When confidence in the bench and bar is at a low ebb, the direct, courageous rulings by Justice Demarest and Justice Baynes have made it clear, once again, that there is such a thing as the “rule of law,” even when it may temporarily slow the inexorably grinding wheels of financial profit.
How much “profit” will the sale of LICH property bring? Some say up to half a billion dollars.
Sadly, cutting into this “profit,” we will surely see a lot of lawsuits claiming, with justification, that the abrupt closing of the LICH emergency care unit, among others, has wrought added injury and even death.