It may have been April Fool's Day, but a Brooklyn Judge was as serious as a heart attack when he issued a second temporary restraining order against SUNY Downstate on Monday.
Judge Johnny Lee Baynes stated that the New York State Nurses Association and other plaintiffs had made a sufficiently strong case that the closure of Long Island Colege Hospital was illegal. As such, he scheduled a new hearing for May 2. In the interim, the order bars any communication between SUNY defendants and Department of Health defendants regarding plans to shutter LICH.
Before Baynes' decision, SUNY officials had voted to close the hospital as of June 16. Despite still waiting approval by the State Department of Health, layoff notices were distributed to 1,800 employees in March.
SUNY Downstate is currently losing roughly $11 million a month, according to a state audit released earlier this year. Approximately $4 million of that loss has fallen on LICH.
But defenders of the 155-year-old hospital say that the health facility suffers from poor management, not lack of patients. Activists point out that the hospital had been rebounding financially in 2010 before being acquired by SUNY Downstate in 2011.
NYS Comptroller's audit, page 10:
'In fact, for 2009 and 2010, LICH had operating losses of $39.1 million and $4.7 million, respectively.'
At the time of the acquisition SUNY Downstate, however, was "an already deteriorating fiscal environment," according to the audit, due to "the failure to take timely actions to address emergency health care issues impacting the Brooklyn community; and weak governance and ineffective financial management."
LICH has been targeted for sale by its owners not because the hospital can't be saved, but because of the value its property has to potential real-estate developers, allege supporters.
"Our community is now under siege from real estate over-development and this land grab is the latest and most pressing," said Roy Sloane, President of the Cobble Hill Association in an e-mail.
"The 1 million people who live, work, and recreate in downtown Brooklyn are at risk," he went on. "We lost our public park lands to luxury condos (Brooklyn Bridge Park), we are losing our two nearest libraries to condos (Cadman Plaza and the Carnegie library on Pacific Street) and now, our hospital."
Whether that effort will catch the Governor's attention remains to be seen. But the second restraining order was considered a coup by LICH supporters—one giving them more time to fight.
“This temporary restraining order is another victory for Brooklyn patients who depend on LICH,” said Jill Furillo, RN, Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association in a release.
“NYSNA and our allies will continue to pressure our state officials to put patients first—not real estate developers and private investors.”