Court’s LICH watchdog goes rogue, calling state handling of hospital ‘evil,’ ‘arrogant’

News analysis: If LICH closes, housing towers could rise
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A court-appointed watchdog tasked with making sure that the state doesn’t take any steps to close Long Island College Hospital is fed up with what he sees as state officials disobeying with impunity — and now he’s sounding the alarm.

Jon Berall, one of two ombudsmen for the troubled Cobble Hill hospital, says that the State University of New York, which runs the hospital, is continuing to gut it despite court orders mandating that the university restore services to the levels they were at on July 19, when the state first moved to close the medical facility for good. And state officials did it knowing full well that the closure would endanger the lives of the 60,000 who use its emergency room each year, according to Berall, who says their continued flouting of the court’s orders gave him a moral imperative to break his silence.

“It’s evil,” he said. “You don’t sacrifice people’s lives knowingly except in time of war and even then only with great consideration.”

Also, the state’s move to shut down the institution was probably motivated by a greedy scheme to sell the real estate it sits on, valued at over $500-million, to luxury developers, Berall said.

“It shows stunning arrogance to try to turn a working hospital into luxury condominiums,” said Berall, a doctor in Brooklyn Heights.

Berall was appointed by Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes in September to keep tabs on the condition of the infirmary and report back to the court. But one month into the process, despite the fact that the state allowed ambulances back and is supposed to be out of the picture sometime soon due to another bombshell ruling that stripped it of authority over the place, Berall is frustrated. According to him, the state is clearly breaking the law by firing doctors, further cutting services, and keeping the surgery and obstetric units closed, and he could only report those facts so long before he began to question the very premise of his position.

“Reality is, I don’t know what my job is about at this point,” Berall said. “I have been reporting for months that judge’s orders are not being followed but nothing has happened. I don’t actually know where that information goes.”

Berall said that court judges are still working to find an operator for the hospital, and may have a taker by the end of the month.

The state has been trying to close the 155-year-old institution since February.

— with Nathan Tempey

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
If you see something: Watchdog Dr. Jon Berall is saying something about how wrongly the state has acted in handling Long Island College Hospital.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini