LICH, Public Advocate in balance in lawsuit

Distraught LICH nurses turn to yoga, zumba to keep morale up

It’s not just Long Island College Hospital that’s at stake in court hearings about its closure this week — the office of the public advocate is in the balance, too.

That’s what an attorney for Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio said in court on Wednesday, challenging the state’s claims that DeBlasio doesn’t have standing to sue the state for contempt of court. The state allegedly is in contempt because it attempted to shut down the 155-year-old Cobble Hill hospital in violation of a temporary restraining order.

“Will it be a toothless office?” asked Jim Walden, an attorney for DeBlasio, who argued that courts have never fully clarified whether the relatively new office has the standing to act as a petitioner in lawsuits on behalf of the public.

DeBlasio is only the third person to ever hold the office of public advocate, which was created in 1993 and comes with a vague and largely unspecified responsibility to look out for the public’s interest. Whether that means public advocates have standing to sue is unclear, even though this is not the first time a public advocate has sued the government.

Walden said that Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes did not have to decide on this issue definitively — only that he had the opportunity to.

“You would be clarifying for generations to come the role of the public advocate’s office,” Walden said.

These comments came in a hearing that debated whether DeBlasio’s lawsuit, along with a similar lawsuit by doctors and nurses at the hospital, should be dismissed on procederal grounds. The hearing did not arrive at a conclusion by the end of the day, and Baynes said the hearings on these issues — which could result in fines or even the arrest of state administrators — could last a week or more.

Last week, a group of civic organizations joined DeBlasio’s lawsuit against the state.

“Our communities need LICH — and LICH needs a competent operator,” said Jane McGroarty, the Vice President of the Brooklyn Heights Association, which joined the suit with neighborhood powerhouses such as the Boerum Hill Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Wyckoff Gardens Association, and Riverside Tenants’ Association.

The wife of a would-be patient joined the plaintiffs, too — a woman whose husband had to wait seven hours for treatment of his chest pains at Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital because she had heard Long Island College Hospital was closed.

The suit alleges that the state took unlawful action to close down the financially troubled hospital, including diverting ambulances from its emergency room, and that the state is only interested in selling the hospital’s valuable real estate.

The state argues that Long Island College Hospital is losing alarming amounts of money and that an exodus of doctors from the hospital makes the facility unsafe for patients.

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