LICH in the balance

Bidding war! Pols demand inclusion of full-service hospital in LICH pitches
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge on Tuesday once again pushed back a decision on whether state officials broke the law when they reduced service at Long Island College Hospital.

The State University of New York, along with the Service Employees International Union for healthcare workers won a request for a two-day delay to continue “good faith” discussions despite pleas by anti-hospital-closure activists to finally kick off the hearing which was first scheduled in November 2013.

“The people in this room have been waiting around. What they want is justice,” said Jim Walden, a lawyer representing six community groups in a lawsuit against the state.

On Thursday, Judge Johnny Lee Baynes is yet again scheduled to decide whether state managers of the embattled Cobble Hill medical center are in contempt of court for reducing service levels in direct violation of court orders forbidding it. The orders mandate that the state, which has been trying to close the hospital for a year, keep service levels where they were on July 19, when management first started diverting ambulances to other hospitals. In the months that followed, the state placed 650 hospital staffers on paid administrative leave, stopped surgeries, and surrounded the hospital with security guards, moves hospital advocates say are clearly illegal.

If found guilty of contempt, state reps could face fines, or even jail time, but Baynes has for the last four months avoided a decision on the issue, saying that he would prefer the state, activists, and staffers unions reach an agreement on their own.

The state could not reach an accord with hospital defenders by 3:40 in the morning on Sunday, a State University of New York attorney said in court on Tuesday, but a deal could still be struck.

“We remain absolutely willing partners in a settlement process,” Walden told Judge Baynes.

Union bigs say the issue of keeping the hospital open is a big sticking point in reaching an agreement. The state has claimed it is losing $13 million a month keeping the storied, 155-year-old healthcare facility open and is in the process of selling it off, which Gov. Cuomo says makes it ineligible to benefit from $8 billion in federal Medicaid money that the state scored last week.

But staffer reps said that shuttering the hospital to wait around for someone to redevelop it is a non-starter.

“We are concerned about any settlement that would close LICH for any period of time,” New York State Nurses Association head Jill Furillo said in a statement.

The community groups are trying to subpoena the e-mails and text messages of John Williams, head of the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and other state honchos, Walden said. Judge Baynes should decide by Thursday whether to demand the records, according to Walden.

One anti-closure neighbor said she is willing to wait for the delayed contempt hearing — as long as the state gets its comeuppance.

“This is a murder and conspiracy trial,” said Cobble Hill resident Judi Francis. “I am patient.”

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Big talk: Jill Furillo, center, says that her union does not want any deal that closes Long Island College Hospital.
Community Newspaper Group / Jaime Lutz