OPINION: Waiting for Cuomo on LICH

August 8, 2013 By Toomas M. Sorra, MD, former LICH president For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A dangerous heat wave recently contributed to a severe emergency room crisis in Brooklyn, a city that has grown exponentially in recent years. Hot and congested Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and adjacent areas were especially affected by the latest heat emergency. The sweltering temperature was believed to have overwhelmed the capacity of a downtown hospital and sent emergency ambulances adrift in treacherous and long rides to hospitals further afield. The closest and most convenient Long Island College Hospital (LICH), is paralyzed by New York state officials who block ambulances from bringing patients to its Emergency Department and let it sit idle while the rest of Brooklyn struggles under the added burden.

The Long Island College Hospital, atop the prominent Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill waterfront in the most heavily populated part of Brooklyn, is the latest victim of its own rapidly rising real estate asset holdings. First it was the Continuum Health Partners (CHP) system from Manhattan, and now it is the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center under Governor Cuomo’s appointees who are tearing apart a once-prominent hospital into a heap of a real estate bonanza.

LICH has been a premier teaching hospital during its 155-year history.  Even now as it struggles to emerge from the most recent corporate predation, and current state cannibalism, the latest U.S. News reported that LICH remains one of the top hospitals in Brooklyn and its doctors rated the highest.  While LICH and its community struggle to fill the healthcare gap, Gov. Cuomo’s SUNY Downstate appointees are sticking to a dangerously quick and easy way out, by planning to cash in LICH real estate assets and to liquidate the donated charitable Othmer trust, specifically created to protect the hospital from such misfortune.

Though challenges may seem enormous and a solution out of reach, letting such a respected medical institution go to waste and disappear will remain a testimony to Governor Cuomo’s leadership, not the reflection on LICH and its community. As the Brooklyn waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge Park can testify, endless potentials of what we can achieve by joining public and civic forces is breathtaking. The expeditious dismantling of an institution that has served its people well for generations is casting doubt on the Cuomo administration’s handling of the LICH closure and on the integrity of the process.  Several judicial rulings have also confirmed the community’s moral indignation by ruling against the questionable tactics used by the SUNY Board and SUNY Downstate to deal LICH and the nearby neighborhood a terrible blow.

Instead of bringing the Flatbush community of SUNY Downstate and the Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights community of LICH together, or following the state’s own recommendation to consolidate Downstate’s services and facilities with the Long Island College Hospital to create a more viable and stronger organization, SUNY officials are rushing to unload LICH’s real estate with vague notions of who the beneficiaries might be. At the same time, although at least 7 potential suitors/buyers of LICH have been announced, the details still don’t allow suitors to contact anyone on site at LICH. 

While the best water views from high floors of LICH could be used in exchange for a better hospital facility to service the same area, it is also important to realize that a well-managed institution that attracts insured and affluent patients will also offset the cost of providing services for the poor, elderly and disadvantaged in nearby neighborhoods.

In a time of crisis, the state administration must not divide communities that need each other by promoting the welfare of one community against another. Brooklyn needs leadership that can help bridge communities and bring a constructive win-win solution, not transactional politics to put a band-aid on a bleeding wound.

The Cuomo administration’s display of political might and muscle may doom LICH’s future, especially for those who work hard there daily to serve the people of Brooklyn.  President Obama often says that at the heart of America’s story, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C., is the promise that hard work will pay off, that responsibility will be rewarded, that everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules. Today in Long Island College Hospital, for those honest hardworking people, only the labor activists and the Concerned Physicians of LICH organization stand between unemployment and continuing with the job of saving lives. Never mind that they are medical professionals trained to give the healing touch, not moving speeches – they stood up and made enormous sacrifices for a cause they all believe in, by showing the kind of public leadership lacking so far in Governor Cuomo’s plan for LICH.

Governor Cuomo has recently quipped that people tend to forget. But when it comes to the price of one life or a million lives, it will be hard to go back and erase the record.

The best advice is to keep the record straight about the price of millions of lives in Brooklyn now, rather than to regret it later. LICH must remain open as a full-service teaching hospital to serve the communities of downtown Brooklyn.  We need honest medical leadership to save lives and we will get it with or without Governor Cuomo.  But we hope that he will join us.

–Toomas M. Sorra, MD

Past President of Long Island College Hospital Medical Staff

President – Concerned Physicians of LICH


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