Cobble Hill

SUNY, DOH honchos face contempt hearing for alleged LICH malfeasance

Cobble Hill Association: ‘We hope someone at SUNY goes to jail for their actions.’

November 13, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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State Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes is going to have a very full courtroom on November 18.

That is when 20 highly-placed defendants, including the entire board of trustees from the State University of New York (SUNY) and administrators from SUNY Downstate and the state Department of Health have been ordered to appear before Justice Baynes to answer for their actions regarding Long Island College Hospital (LICH).

The defendants will have to explain to the judge why they have allegedly ignored seven court orders prohibiting them from reducing the level of medical services provided at LICH, endangering Brooklynites from Red Hook to Williamsburg and causing chaos at emergency rooms across the borough.

If found guilty of the charges, the defendants face “a fine or imprisonment, or both.”

On Tuesday morning, Hon. John M. Leventhal, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, rejected SUNY’s request for a stay, writing there was “sufficient cause” to go forward with contempt proceedings. Later on Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Bayne, acting for state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes (no relation) signed the order.

After months of protests, civil disobedience and seemingly toothless court orders, LICH supporters smell blood. “It is clear that SUNY and the DOH will not obey any order of this Court,” the plaintiffs say in court papers. They are asking Justice Baynes to find SUNY et al. “in civil contempt and to assess fines of $250,000 per day until such time as LICH is fully operational and provides the same level of services it provided on April 1, 2013.”

The coalition fighting to save LICH includes Public Advocate (and soon-to-be-Mayor) Bill de Blasio, six local community groups (listed below), the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), 1199 SEIU, Concerned Physicians of LICH, and Patients for LICH.

Attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “With SUNY’s latest attempts at gamesmanship rebuffed by the Appellate Division, thousands of community members are again gratified that the Courts are a place of refuge from illegal state action. We look forward, finally, to calling SUNY to account for months of contemptuous acts. Our proof is overwhelming.”

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The Cobble Hill Association’s Jeff Strabone had harsh words for the SUNY 20: “The Cobble Hill Association looks forward to SUNY’s impending contempt hearing and to any criminal charges that may follow. SUNY has stopped at nothing to destroy health care in our community. We hope someone at SUNY goes to jail for their actions.”

“The evidence in its totality, of SUNY’s continued campaign to sabotage care at LICH, is shocking in its detail and conclusions,” said Eliza Bates, spokesperson for NYSNA. “We are committed to the full restoration of services at LICH for the community,” she said.

Spokespersons from SUNY and DOH did not respond to requests for comment by press time.  

SUNY and financially-ailing University Medical Center (SUNY Downstate) in East Flatbush, which took over LICH two years ago, stand accused of a shocking number of violations in their rush to close the hospital, which is sitting on valuable Brownstone Brooklyn real estate.
On April 1, 2013, the court issued the first of seven orders requiring SUNY to maintain services at LICH – first at the April 1 level and later at the July 19 level — and temporarily restrained SUNY from taking “any action in furtherance of the closure plan.”

SUNY allegedly violated the orders on an almost daily basis.

Before the summer began, SUNY cancelled LICH’s residency and fellowship program, ended labor and delivery services, cancelled non-ambulatory surgeries, closed LICH’s outpatient psychiatric clinic, and stopped scheduling medical procedures.

In June, despite another court order, SUNY terminated ambulance delivery, jamming ERs across Brooklyn and plunging western Brooklyn into a summer-long crisis. Service was partially restored in September, but SUNY diverted ambulances again, temporarily, just last week.

Over the summer, LICH advocates say, SUNY continued to cut services and padlock units. On June 27, SUNY issued a letter directing that no patients be admitted unless approved by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Lucchesi. SUNY administrators halted the scheduling of endoscopies and chemotherapy treatment, and finally, all outpatient procedures.

SUNY allegedly violated another TRO by attempting to transfer patients from LICH against the considered opinion of the medical staff. One night, doctors say, they had to call in the NYPD to prevent SUNY from moving delicate patients against their advice.

SUNY spent enormous sums on armed and unarmed University police and security guards hired from several agencies. Doctors and other staff told the court that they felt intimidated and feared for their safety. SUNY locked LICH’s front revolving door, essentially barring anyone using a wheelchair from entering.

Over the summer, SUNY illegally sent notices of termination to 6,500 patients of LICH’s clinics. SUNY fired 107 physicians, effective as of August 22. On August 22, after many had already left for secure employment, SUNY offered some of them temporary appointments with no benefits and low hourly rates. On October 24, 500 nurses and other healthcare employees were told they would be laid off. The next day, SUNY said it had changed its mind.

SUNY has previously declared that “SUNY is not in violation of any court order whatsoever,” claiming that court orders were automatically stayed upon appeal. The Appellate Division ruled, however, that an October 11 court order was not subject to an automatic stay upon appeal. LICH supporters say this logic extends to all of the court orders.

All 20 defendants will be served with papers by November 15. Those being served include SUNY itself as an institution, and all 14 SUNY trustees: H. Carl McCall, Joseph Belluck, Herrick Dullea, Angelo Fatta, Tina Good, Stephen Hunt, Eunice A. Lewin, Marshall Lichtman, John Murad, Linda Sanford, Richard Socarides, Carl Spielvogel, Cary Staller, and Gerri Warren-Merrick.

The list also includes SUNY Downstate’s Chief Medical Officer Michael Lucchesi, Downstate’s President John F. Williams, the NYS Department of Health (DOH), Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, SUNY Downstate Interim CEO George Caralis, and SUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor and General Counsel William Howard.

Other legal proceedings in the coalition’s fight to keep LICH open are playing out in the courtroom of state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest.

Check back for updates.

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The six community groups that belong to the Save Lich Coalition include the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants Association, and Wykoff Gardens Association, Inc. Individual members of the coalition include Kate Mackenzie and Carl Biers.

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