Despite protests from the community and nurses, the State University of New York’s board of trustees unanimously voted to close Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn on Friday morning.
LICH, as the hospital is often called, employs more than 2,200 people, but the board said that it runs recurrent financial deficits and undercuts the SUNY medical center’s finances as a result.
“The issue is that the people that are in those beds don’t produce enough revenues to support the expenses,” Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said. “Overall, the issue here is money.”
The SUNY Downstate Medical Center acquired Long Island College Hospital in May 2011 when the institution was already in financial distress. Downstate owns more than 64 campuses and medical facilities in New York State, including the College of Medicine, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and the School of Public Health.
Downstate runs a $10 to 12 million loss a month, and nearly $4 million of this loss comes from LICH. At this rate, the administration believes that the enterprise would run out of cash at the end of March and the board said that it could not keep absorbing the hospital’s deficit.
If the company keeps LICH, “it puts the entire enterprise in jeopardy,” Downstate’s president John F. William said. “We can not sustain losses like this.”
When it realized it would lose the vote, the small crowd gathered at the meeting started waiving placards that said: “Save LICH” and yelling at the members. Many of them quickly left the room.
“They did not even adjourn the meeting,” one of the protesting nurses said. “They just walked out on people. That does not show leadership.”
For most of the demonstrating staff, members the administration’s mismanagement is directly responsible for the hospital’s financial distress.
“There is a big discrepancy in what we are billing and what is being collected,” Alice Garner, the chief of neonatology at Long Island College Hospital, said the day before the vote during a public hearing.
During the year 2012, Dr. Garner said she billed $1.5 million for care services. Only $200,000 was collected. In June 2012, she said she billed $154,000 and the hospital only collected $4,000.
“What I ask,” she added, “is [for them] to look at where the money is.”
John F. William admitted the enterprise has been particularly inefficient in collecting the money. “Bills go out wrong. They go to the wrong people,” he said. “That is a system that we inherited from Continuum.” Continuum Health Partners is the previous owner of Long Island College Hospital.
Julie Semente, a nurse in the intensive care unit at LICH, and other medical staff also blame the hospital’s administration. “They are talking about the hospital not generating revenue,” she said. “That is their fault.”
Semente and other nurses and doctors are mostly concerned about their patients. The closest hospital to LICH, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, is about two miles away.
“Two miles for our patients could be three bus rides, or a 20-minutes car ride,” Semente added.
It could also be a matter of life and death, as Ian Salsburry told the hearing on Thursday. Salsburry said he would have lost his wife, Kate, who had suffered cardiac arrest a few days short of her 30th birthday, if LICH had not responded as fast as it did. The doctors told him that if the ambulance had arrived a few minutes later, she would not have survived. On Thursday, he begged the board to postpone the vote.
Downstate’s president said that the closure of Long Island College Hospital was the first step in a series of changes that will help restore Downstate’s financial health. The board of trustees still needs to seek approval from the New York State Department of Health before closing the hospital.
The president cannot say precisely when the hospital would close, but it should be in a matter of weeks.