The brisk wind wasn’t enough to drown out the chants of dozens of protesters fighting for a pair of Brooklyn hospitals outside of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s New York City office Thursday.
Red-clad members of the New York States Nurses Association joined Brooklyn community residents at the rally, to demand that Cuomo keep Interfaith Hospital and Long Island College Hospital, also known as LICH, alive.
“There is major talk about closing our hospital,” LICH intensive care nurse Linda O’Neil said in an interview. She came out to the rally to speak up. “There is a need for that hospital as well as all the hospitals in Brooklyn.”
Organized by the Save Our Safety Net Campaign, the primary thrust of the rally was on Crown Heights-based Interfaith. Community activist Rev. Robert M. Waterman had to be reminded to include the SUNY Downstate Medical Center-owned LICH, located in downtown Brooklyn, in his prompts through the megaphone
“There is a need for Interfaith and LICH,” community resident Antoinette Millsapp told the crowd. Without them, patients “are in for a long wait.”
This is the third public rally to be held on Interfaith’s behalf, with a town hall event scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 7.
Both hospitals have been heavily affected by the Brooklyn Work Group that Cuomo commissioned in June of 2011 as part of a statewide Medicaid reform effort. In November of that year, the five member panel released a series of sweeping recommendations for Brooklyn hospitals, including that Interfaith merge with Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and Brooklyn Hospital, with Brooklyn Hospital taking the lead as the most financially stable of the three.
The crux of that merger fell apart when Wyckoff backed out but talks between Brooklyn Hospital and Interfaith have continued. The urgency of the matter accelerated when Interfaith declared bankruptcy in December. The hospital’s financial situation first deteriorated when Medicaid reimbursement was reworked in 2010, dramatically affecting how Interfaith is reimbursed for the 65 percent of its patients on Medicaid.
In such dire financial straits, Interfaith has said it has no problem with a potential merger.
The problem, Interfaith advocates argue, is that Brooklyn Hospital has not given any assurances that Interfaith’s facilities and services would remain intact.
Without those assurances, advocates worry that central Brooklyn will lose Interfaith’s 277 beds, with few other nearby options for hospitals. “There’s nothing in central Brooklyn except for Interfaith,” said hospital spokeswoman Melissa Krantz.
Well-versed in getting rallies worked up, Rev. Waterman told attendees: “It is a hostile takeover and we will not stand for it.”
For LICH, the issue is one of real estate. The property the hospital sits on has been valued at $100 million, which stirs fears that the State University of New York wants to use it to fortify SUNY Downstate.
Nurse O’Neil described LICH’s emergency room as regularly full, especially from the flu that recently swept through New York. She fears there’s no room in Brooklyn’s 16 hospitals to pick up the slack left by a potential LICH closure.
Rally participants hoped Gov. Cuomo would intervene in one or both situations, leveraging SUNY to reconsider selling LICH and working to ensure a more mutually beneficial merger between Brooklyn Hospital and Interfaith.