SUNY Downstate Won't Fire 500 People at Long Island College Hospital After All -- For Now
Since the summer, the fight over Cobble Hill's Long Island College Hospital has dragged on and on and on, with its parent company, SUNY Downstate, saying the hospital is losing millions and must close its doors. On the other side is the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and Public Advocate/in all likelihood your next mayor, Bill de Blasio, who like to point out that people need hospitals. Sick people mostly, or the ones who might get sick. It's kind of a specialized group.
Photo by Wlliam Alatriste; Image via Public Advocate's office De Blasio speaks at an October 28 rally outside LICH.
In July, de Blasio won a restraining order to keep the hospital open, and in August, a judge ruled that SUNY had to restore services to LICH . By September, ambulances, which SUNY had barred from LICH since June, were once again delivering patients to the emergency room . And on September 13, Judge Johnny Lee Baynes ruled that SUNY's closure plan for LICH was "unconstitutionally vague" and told them it couldn't proceed.
At that point, SUNY Downstate took a different tack. On October 25, as Crain's was first to report, the company issued layoff notices to 500 employees, effective October 29.
Yesterday afternoon, de Blasio led a rally outside LICH, joined by NYSNA and SEIU Local 1199, a healthcare worker's union. Also making a non-speaking appearance: state senator and recently-defeated public advocate candidate Daniel Squadron.
"This is the go-to place for healthcare," de Blasio said, noting that the hospital provided ER services to some 75,000 people. "This is the go-to emergency room. ... It's literally a lifeline." He also called the layoff notices "a clear violation" of the judge's order from September, and said they were a back-door way to shut the hospital down. He added that it was "more than ironic" that the firings would go into effect on the first anniversary of Sandy, "a time when this community needed LICH the most."
"We're going back to court," he concluded. "We are simply not gonna take it." He said they would ask Judge Baynes to stop the layoffs "dead in their tracks."
The threat of legal action apparently did the trick. By late afternoon, the word was out that SUNY was backing away from its layoff plans, though everyone involved was vague on just how that turnaround had happened. A SUNY spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle that NYSNA had taken the issue for arbitration "and we are abiding by the process." He didn't elaborate.
NYSNA didn't say anything about arbitration, issuing a statement on Facebook that read, in part:
We've won another victory to keep LICH Open for Care! Threatened layoffs of hundreds at University Hospital of Brooklyn at LICH came to a halt today, less than two days after SUNY mandated the firings. SUNY and StaffCo, which operates the hospital, have agreed that the major layoffs scheduled at LICH tomorrow will not take place. At minimum the layoffs are delayed for several weeks.
De Blasio's office issued a similar statement, and on Twitter, de Blasio promised to "keep fighting until we find a responsible provider" to manage the hospital.
But SUNY Downstate made it quite clear that the layoffs, although they won't happen today, will still take place. As a statement to Brooklyn News 12 promised, "SUNY intends to take the responsible steps that are needed to align staffing levels with the greatly reduced patient volume and limited services available at the facility."