A Grim Outlook for Brooklyn Hospitals in 2013

The man charged by Governor Cuomo with devising a rescue plan for Brooklyn’s struggling hospitals says 2012 was a “lost year” – and 2013 could bring more bad news.

A little more than a year ago, Stephen Berger led a blue-ribbon panel that urged several hospitals to merge and restructure. None of them did. One of them, Interfaith Hospital, declared bankruptcy earlier this month. Berger says more hospitals could follow.

“You don’t move overnight,” Berger said. “It takes several years to build things and to change concepts. But no one’s doing anything. They’re just rolling downhill until they crash.”

Berger and other members of a Governor Cuomo-appointed panel last year advised Interfaith Hospital, which has more than a hundred millions of dollars in debt, to merge with two slightly healthier hospitals. Talks quickly broke down, and Interfaith this month entered Chapter Eleven bankruptcy.

Berger says low-income communities are poorly served by large, old hospitals and need smaller clinics that focus on primary care.

“We have a system that really was built around big-box healthcare delivery, and that's hospital care, not health care.”

In addition to Interfaith, Brookdale and Wyckoff Heights hospitals are millions of dollars in debt and facing deep cuts from the federal and state governments.

Berger is a private equity investor and longtime healthcare leader. He praised North-Shore LIJ hospital system for taking over a remnant of the closed St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village and putting in an emergency room and a series of small clinics.

But many have criticized the move, saying it won’t really serve the community, and the new facility won’t provide much healthcare for the poor, as St. Vincent’s did.

Berger also has critics who say his 2011 panel and an earlier state-wide one five years earlier did not represent average people in the community.

Critics agree with the call for more clinics, but they say hospitals need more help from the government.