Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
Two months after a state panel told cash-strapped Brooklyn hospitals they should merge or reduce services in order to avoid closure, some hospitals have taken the advice — and others have disregarded it.
Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, in Crown Heights, is negotiating a take-over of Brookdale University Hospital, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The merger was recommended in November by a panel appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“We cannot continue to be a stand-alone community hospital,” said Dr. Linda Brady, Kingsbrook's president. “Stand-alone community hospitals — unless you’re in an environment where you’re the only hospital – are really going to go the way of the dinosaur.”
Other panel recommendations — all of which are non-binding — included merging Brooklyn Hospital Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Wyckoff Heights Hospital; closing the inpatient service at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center; and shifting all of SUNY-Downstate’s inpatient service from its flagship campus in East Flatbush to its newly acquired facility at Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Steven Berger, who led the governor’s advisory panel, is a private equity manager widely known for spearheading earlier efforts, under Governor George Pataki, to close dozens of hospitals and nursing homes across the state.
Some experts are skeptical that Berger's proposed mergers will stabilize the ailing institutions, all of which serve poor communities with large numbers of people on Medicaid and Medicare -- or lacking insurance altogether. Kingsbrook, for example, has a 1 percent profit margin and $16 million in assets. Brookdale is operating at a 13 percent loss, and has $285 million in debts. Both are about 60 percent occupied.
Kingsbrook will apply for state aid for the merger, but Brady said she doesn't yet know how much. She said Brookdale will have to work out its debts with its creditors, before Kingsbrook can take it over. She expects the process to take the next 12 months.
Speaking Wednesday, after a conference on Brooklyn healthcare sponsored by Crain’s New York Business, Brady was confronted by union representatives and community activists concerned about closing or reducing large parts of Brookdale, such as the anesthesiology and pediatrics residency programs.
They echoed objections shouted by hundreds of protestors outside the Brooklyn Marriott, where the conference took place.
“This is a very difficult transaction,” Brady said. “The challenge is to keep everything alive, so it exists, so it can change.”
Many of the demonstrators outside Wednesday's event objected to the Berger panel's proposal to relocate SUNY-Downstate's inpatient beds from the historic campus to the new one, formerly associated with Long Island College Hospital.
“How are you going to conduct [educational] programs, when you have to go to LICH for inpatient services?” said Rowena Blackman-Stroud, a union representative from Downstate. “It isn’t logical at all.”
SUNY-Downstate President Dr. John LaRosa said he agreed -- and will ignore the Berger panel recommendations. So far, he said, he has not received any pressure from Albany to do otherwise.
"We acquired LICH, because we need the teaching the space," LaRosa said. "Mr. Berger says, 'Move all your inpatient beds to LICH.' But doing that would defeat the purpose of acquiring LICH."