A hospital closure like Long Island College Hospital’s should not happen again without the state doing a whole lot of explaining beforehand.
That is the message of a new bill state lawmakers are pushing that would require the state to draft a formal study of the needs of the area around a struggling hospital, explain why the state can’t step in to save the hospital, and take input from residents before signing off on the shuttering. The legislation is meant to prevent a repeat of the closing of the Cobble Hill medical center, which prompted a yearlong legal battle and dozens of protests and left residents with a planned luxury housing development and a dramatically diminished health facility, according to a pol who will introduce the bill in the state Senate next year.
“At LICH there was no process, no way to insure that healthcare concerns were at the forefront,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Cobble Hill). “As a result, we ended up with one of the ugliest, most destructive fights I have seen during my time in public service. It was a fight with no winners.”
The legislation, being called the Local Input in Community Healthcare Act, lays out a process for future hospital closures that requires a lot of documentation by state health administrators, but ultimately leaves the power in their hands. It would require the health commissioner to publish a report explaining what the health department can do to mitigate the negative effects, why a state takeover is not viable, and what has been done to save the hospital. Once the report is issued, there would be a process for residents to comment, and for the state to respond.
The bill states further that the commissioner is only supposed to approve the closure application if the medical needs of the community can be met.
“It gives a clear criteria around which the commissioner of health may only approve a hospital closure,” Sqaudron said.
The protracted court battle waged between community groups and the state often centered on the medical needs of neighborhoods surrounding Long Island College Hospital. And after the state barred ambulances from the hospital and moved to sell it to a developer that planned to turn it into luxury housing and an urgent-care center, activists tried unsuccessfully to leverage the development-bid process to force a new owner to include a full-service hospital in its plans.
The bill will be the first introduced by Assemblywoman-elect Jo Anne Simon (D–Cobble Hill) when she takes office in January. She said the law will force the state to take neighbors’ concerns seriously before pulling the plug.
“The state commissioner of health has got to engage in a process so that we can determine what the community’s needs are,” she said.
State health officials never looked at the growing population around Long Island College Hospital before they moved to unload the valuable property, Public Advocate Letitia James said.
“They never took into consideration the growth and development of Downtown Brooklyn,” she said. “That was never taken into consideration. And in the absence of that how could you possibly close a hospital recognizing its growth and its expansion and its healthcare needs?”
Cobble Hill Association spokesman Jeff Strabone said the bill might be the only redeeming change to come out of the long saga.
“Perhaps one good thing to come out of this will be the LICH Act,” he said. “Hospital closings should always be first and foremost about healthcare, and not a business deal.”