Interfaith receives another reprieve as supporters seek restructuring plan

Due back in Bankruptcy Court on Nov. 13

November 4, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn received a short reprieve on Monday as Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig adjourned bankruptcy proceedings until November 13.

Interfaith, serving 175,000 residents of Central Brooklyn, was forced to file for bankruptcy last December after the state rejected its proposed restructuring plan.

“Today we received a one week extension in court proceedings. We’ll be back here November 13,” said Eliza Carboni, Associate Director of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). “It’s clear that a plan to save Interfaith is on the table. There just needs to be more time to develop the plan” and work out the funding, she said.

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At Monday’s hearing at U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District in Downtown Brooklyn, lawyers for a coalition supporting Interfaith, including NYSNA, 1199 Healthcare Workers and members of the community, asked Judge Craig for more time. Avrum Rosen, attorney for NYSNA, assured the judge that several suitors had expressed interest. “We’re not just kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Rosen also spoke of the impact the closing would have on hospital employees and on Brooklyn, saying that there was a better than outside chance of saving the hospital.

Judge Craig questioned, however, where the funds would come from to keep Interfaith open while a deal was worked out. “The point here is the passage of time is eroding funds available to implement the orderly closure of the hospital and pay creditors.”

She also voiced doubt that a “white knight” would swoop in and rescue Interfaith. “We’re almost a year into this bankruptcy, so why not a white knight already?”

Rosen pointed to an exclusivity agreement with Brooklyn Hospital Center, which expired in July, as inhibiting interest by other healthcare providers. “There has been lots of activity once we were relieved of that exclusivity,” Rosen said.

Judge Craig noted that Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center had “entered the picture as a potential partner,” but lawyers said that a memorandum of understanding called for Kingsbrook to operate only Interfaith’s clinics and urgent care center. At least one other suitor has also expressed interest in Interfaith’s clinics.

Three Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in central Brooklyn have expressed interest in the hospital, Rosen said, and discussions are taking place with a fourth.

“’Discussions’ are not that persuasive,” Judge Craig commented.

The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) has approved millions in financing to implement the closure plan. Attorneys for DASNY said a week’s delay in closing Interfaith “will not harm us. The closure plan as currently proposed has Interfaith operating through most of December. If the closure plan is authorized today or a week from today, no harm, no foul.”

Originally, plans called for Interfaith’s emergency department to stop accepting patients on September 26, with other services to gradually wrap up by Christmas day. But the hospital received a reprieve from the state Department of Health (DOH) after Public Advocate Bill de Blasio filed a motion on August 20 to halt the closure, based on DOH’s disregard of the mandated 90-day review period.

On Friday, de Blasio said coalition members would ask for a 30-day extension. “The health care system must be maintained” while Interfaith “links up to a long-term solution, a clean handoff.”

After Monday’s extension, de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell said, “We hope the additional time will aid restructuring efforts underway so we can preserve healthcare for this community.”

Supporters for Interfaith rallied in the freezing cold on Monday morning. Jill Furillo, Executive Director of NYSNA asked, “How can you bankrupt so many lives? One hundred and seventy-five thousand people depend on Interfaith. The bankruptcy court seems like a back door way for the Department of Health to close Interfaith. We call foul.”

This proceeding “is somewhat out of order,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We have a ruling that the process the Depart of Health uses to close hospitals is unconstitutional.”

Furillo was referring to state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes’ ruling that the state’s regulations for closing hospitals were “unconstitutionally vague,” and that DOH must take the needs of the community into consideration when it approves hospital closings.

She said that the Interfaith Coalition is currently in the process of putting together data from community needs assessments carried out by three organizations. “The coalition is putting together a proposal for the revitalization and stability of Interfaith,” she said, adding that the group is “trying to follow what we believe is the intent of the law.”

The coalition will meet with the Department of Health later this week, according to a joint statement issued by NYSNA and 1199.

Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church said he remembered when then-Mayor Koch closed Sydenham Hospital in Harlem in 1986. “Before his passing, Ed Koch said it was one of the major mistakes of his administration. Governor Cuomo, don’t let your legacy be closed hospitals.”

Sheila Arthur Smith, a billing clerk at Interfaith for 27 years, noted the large number of psychiatric beds at Interfaith and the thousands who used the ER. “The community needs to have adequate health care; it’s a right, not a privilege.”

At least one interested suitor attended Monday’s hearing. Dr. Prasao Chalasanj, who said he represented the management group Avanti Hospital, told the Eagle that Avanti was interested in taking over Interfaith. “We want to run an acute care community hospital.” He said that his group is willing to put up from $15 to $24 million.

A member of the Interfaith coalition told the Eagle that they preferred to reach out first to existing local health care providers before going out of state, however.

Reginald Swiney, a member of the People’s Coalition who ran for City Council in District 36, said, “Kingsbrook Jewish wants the profitable services, but it’s not coming up with a viable plan. They should take the whole hospital or take nothing.” He added, “I want to know, what’s the Governor’s position?”

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