Long Island College Hospital got a shocking jolt yesterday when a judge ordered the hospital out of state hands because of what she called the state’s possible “sinister purpose to seize its assets and dismantle the hospital.”
Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Demarest’s court order ripped the hospital from the grip of the State University of New York, which has been trying since February to close the hospital’s doors. In her order, Demarest wrote that the state may have taken over the hospital in a bad-faith scheme to shutter the 155-year-old Cobble Hill institution and unload the real estate it sits on, which according to her is worth as much as a billion dollars. The judge wrote that she could not say whether a tough medical market, the state’s incompetence, or a real estate scheme were behind the closure plan, but that the state definitely dropped the ball and could no longer be trusted to care for the medical center.
“At the very least, there appears to have been a lack of due diligence,” Demarest wrote in the order.
The judge oversaw the state’s 2011 takeover of the hospital from management company Continuum Health Partners and her Tuesday ruling threw a wrench in court battles that have been raging over the hospital’s fate.
Demarest recommended the teaching hospital to be returned to Continuum management, but the former operator issued a statement saying it would be unable to take the reins, leaving the health care facility without a clear caretaker.
Despite the uncertainty, hospital advocates say that the unexpected ruling was a victory that at least backed up what they have been saying for years: that the state took over the medical center to sell it, not to save it.
“Real estate profits must not be put before the health care needs of an entire community,” said New York State Nurses Association executive director Jill Furillo at a press conference following the ruling.
A new operator will likely still sell some hospital buildings and cut some services in order to save the hospital from financial free-fall, but those steps must be done with the intent to keep it open as a general teaching hospital, according to the court order.
“At the very least, it is a probability that LICH can only be sustained as a smaller and leaner facility after the sale of some of its assets,” Demarest wrote in the order.
A spokesman for the state university would not say if it will appeal the order — and hospital advocates question whether an appeal is even possible without a full hearing into the state’s original plans — but the state does contend that it acquired the hospital with “the best of intentions.”
“Unfortunately, SUNY and LICH became victims of the daunting realities of Brooklyn’s health care delivery landscape,” said Robert Bellafiore, a school spokesman. “We are disappointed it did not work, but it was not for lack of effort.”
In 2011, the state said that its plan was to keep the hospital open indefinitely despite its poor financial situation — in fact, the deal included the understanding that the hospital would likely lose $144.4 million for the first three years, according to the court order.
To date, Long Island College Hospital has only lost $30 million, the order said.
The court is holding a hearing this Thursday to discuss the logistics of transferring power back to Long Island College Hospital staff and searching for a new hospital operator.
Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at email@example.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.