Fred Mogul, Reporter, WNYC News
Fred Mogul has been covering healthcare and medicine for WNYC since 2002.
The board of trustees of the State University of New York voted unanimously Friday morning to close the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn as an in-patient facility. The meeting room at a SUNY building in Midtown immediately erupted in shouts of "Shame! Shame!" from supporters, who said the university had not given the hospital, known as LICH, enough support.
SUNY acquired the financially troubled hospital in Cobble Hill two years ago, hoping it would be a beneficial partner to SUNY’s Downstate teaching hospital in East Flatbush. Instead, the whole system is losing $11 million a month—$4 million of that from LICH. Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said time and money are running out.
“The money in reserves that we’ve already provided and that would have to be provided in the future—that’s money that comes from our students,” McCall said, following the meeting..
SUNY drew on $75 million in reserves to get Downstate through this fiscal year but has not been able to improve operations or find money elsewhere in state government. SUNY said closing LICH is just the first step in stabilizing the money-losing Downstate system, but it still has a long way to go. Brian Hutzley, SUNY’s vice chancellor for financial services and chief financial officer, stated that even without LICH, Downstate will lose more than $100 million this year and around $250 million by 2015, unless additional, dramatic steps are taken.
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said Downstate’s financial woes are hurting SUNY’s educational mission.
“Our goal is to keep the whole system healthy and not to let one situation, which is hemorrhaging, pull down our ability to serve nearly a half-million students,” she said.
Supporters of LICH, including elected officials, allege that SUNY is interested in selling off the highly valuable land, which sits on the border of Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights and overlooks New York Harbor. McCall denied property values were part of the SUNY calculus, and said it is up to the state Office of General Services to dispose of the real estate.
“We are not part of that process,” he said.
Outside the meeting, the hospital's supporters expressed disappointment with the decision, but vowed to keep fighting. Julie Semente, an intensive care nurse, has worked at LICH for 28 years.
“There is a nursing shortage, so we are not concerned about ourselves. We are concerned about the hospital and the community that we serve,” Semente said. “We're concerned about our patients. We’ll find jobs. W e can find jobs anywhere.”
Back in the neighborhood around LICH, local residents talk proudly of how their children and grandchildren were born there, and how they value the hospital for its emergency room. But many do concur with Downstate officials that they would, in fact, most likely go to Manhattan for “serious medical procedures.”
Robert Sax, a surgeon from out of state who retired here, says his doctors are all affiliated with NYU, and he could not picture going to LICH, except for its emergency room. Still, he is hopeful the institution can assume another medically useful form for the community.
“They need to look at bigger picture—see what are the data, see what’s being used, what does the community need, and then respond accordingly,” Sax said.
SUNY will convene community leaders and healthcare workers to come up with a plan by March for the future of the LICH campus—perhaps as a series of clinics. Meanwhile, officials will soon submit a timetable to the state for closing the hospital.