Immediately following the announcement that Long Island College Hospital (LICH) was to be shut down, an already scheduled Assembly committee hearing was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall regarding the state of healthcare of Brooklyn last Friday.
The State University of New York Board of Trustees announced early that day that they would support the decision by SUNY Downstate Medical Center leadership to seek the approval from the State Department of Health to cease operations of LICH as a full-service inpatient hospital facility.
This didn’t come as a surprise to many who were involved in the process, given that SUNY Downstate was losing money at a rapid rate. Protests and rallies have been held by community members, LICH workers and elected officials. The majority of Brooklyn elected officials signed copies of a letter that was addressed to the SUNY Board demanding that they not close LICH.
The hospital, which is located at Hicks and Pacific Streets in Cobble Hill, “continues to struggle with a negative margin and low market share,” according to SUNY. It is likely that LICH will end up posting negative numbers in the 2013/2014 fiscal year and the deficit contributes to a large cumulative deficit projected from SUNY Downstate.
“Our goal is to avoid insolvency for Downstate Medical Center and preserve the 8,000 jobs that depend on its continued operations,” said board chairman H. Carl McCall. “This difficult decision is the first part of a series of steps that will be taken to ensure high-quality medical education and healthcare services will continue to be provided for the people of Brooklyn.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron, who organized a rally exactly two weeks before the announcement was made to close LICH, voiced his opposition to the plan. “Our fight isn’t over,” he said.
“SUNY’s plan essentially turns a $63 million state grant into a subsidy for a massive real estate deal that will cut essential services without any community benefit,” said Squadron. “It should be no surprise that our community and Brooklyn will feel looted with this result.”
“Regardless of the obstacles, we cannot resort to closing Brooklyn hospitals,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “It’s plain to see that closing LICH would be a serious mistake, so I call on the SUNY Board to rethink this rash decision and continue working to find alternative solutions.”
Brooklyn’s health care facilities and systems are struggling financially, said Stephen Berger, chair of the Brooklyn Health Systems Redesign Work Group, which was formed to address the high number of the borough’s hospitals facing bankruptcy.
Berger said that the traditional hospitals are loosing money in large part due to the “upstairs,” referring to the part of the hospital where patients stay in between procedures and recuperate.
According to Berger, Brooklyn hospitals are averaging a patient stay of 6.1 days, which is above the 4.8 day national average. He went on to state that 20 percent of the people who are in hospital beds in Brooklyn don’t need to be.
“Acute care facilities are disease management places,” he said. “We do not have a system which tries to keep people from getting sick.”
Berger suggested a system that would reward medical professionals who keep people healthy. For example, a doctor who makes phone calls to ensure that people are taking medicine.
Another critical reason why LICH may close, and an issue Berger said needed to be addressed, is the number of people going to Manhattan to seek treatment rather than staying in Brooklyn.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who sits on committee, said he has personally been forced to seek treatment from specialists in Manhattan because there were none in Brooklyn. Lopez asked Berger why there was no incentive to bring specialists into the borough.
Berger said that, in his opinion, Brooklyn needs to look into boosting its primary care doctors and clinics, because many people without a primary care doctor use the emergency room for every health problem.
He said that creating an understanding in the community that there are alternatives to a hospital when it comes to health care will take time, but it needs to happen for Brooklyn’s health care system to succeed
“We’re talking about culture change and financial change,” Berger said. “I do not have a magic wand, I can only talk about what I believe and convince people and argue for change.”