Judge: State’s closure of LICH was unconstitutional

Judge: State’s closure of LICH was unconstitutional
Photo by Paul Martinka

Long Island College Hospital must stay open and the entire system for closing hospitals in the state must be changed, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ruled on Thursday, but will the state listen?

The order from Judge Johnny Lee Baynes is the latest of many requiring the State University of New York, which controls the hospital and has been trying to shutter it since February, to keep it open, but it is the first to demand an overhaul of the process state officials use to shut hospitals down and advocates for the embattled Cobble Hill medical center hailed the ruling as a saving grace for New York health care.

“The court not only rejected the closure plan for Long Island College Hospital, it ruled that the state’s process for approving hospital closure plans is unconstitutionally vague,” said Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association.

The ruling finds that a part of New York state law governing hospital closures violates the Constitution by allowing the governor-appointed Department of Health to close facilities with just 90 days notice and without having to say why.

“Such vagueness assures that the [state Health] Commissioner has unfettered discretion under its terms to approve the closure of LICH for any reason, or no reason at all,” Baynes said in his ruling.

Baynes’s order means that future closure plans will require more transparency and community involvement and keep the state from trying to cash in on the land beneath hospitals, advocates said.

One-two punch: On Thursday, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge delivered a major decision barring the state from closing Long Island College Hospital and calling on state officials to change the way they shut down health care facilities. The ruling was the second in recent weeks making big demands of the state, but service restoration has so far been slow.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“Justice Baynes’ ruling won’t just protect health care in this corner of Brooklyn — it will protect community hospitals across New York City from falling prey to luxury condo developers,” said mayoral hopeful and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio at a press conference on Friday.

The Democratic mayoral candidate, who came out on top at last Tuesday’s primary but may still face a runoff with former Comptroller Bill Thompson, has made fighting hospital closures a signature issue of his campaign and was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that prompted Baynes’s decision. DeBlasio’s triumphant talk glossed over another part of Baynes’s ruling that found the public advocate lacked legal standing to bring a suit, which may limit what future public advocates can do.

The state has motivation to unload Long Island College Hospital thanks to an earlier, bombshell ruling by Judge Carolyn Demarest that demanded that the state relinquish the facility to whoever will take it and barred state officials from selling off any of the land valued at over $500 million by real estate experts. So far, no one has stepped up to take over, but nurses union reps say they are in talks with seven potential operators.

Demarest had set a deadline of Sept. 11 for the state to restore full emergency services while it is temporarily in control, but she has extended that deadline to Sept. 23.

The latest ruling could also affect the impending closure of Interfaith Medical Center a few miles away in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but only if the state breaks from its track record of ignoring

court orders. Baynes said he would address whether state officials are in contempt of court for their handling of the hospital at a later date.

Photo by Paul Martinka

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.