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Judge Temporarily Prevents LICH Closure Citing Open Meetings Law Violation

By Nikhita Venugopal | March 14, 2013 4:38pm | Updated on March 14, 2013 8:00pm

COBBLE HILL — A Brooklyn judge prevented the closure of Long Island College Hospital, because officials from the State University of New York plotted in private to close the facility, according to court documents made public Thursday.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes sided with LICH advocates, supporting their petition to keep SUNY Downstate, which owns the hospital, from closing it until they hold a new vote that complies with the Open Meetings Law.

​The petitioners, who include the New York State Nurses Association, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Concerned Physicians of LICH and Kathleen Campbell, an organizer for the nurses association, claimed SUNY violated the Open Meetings Law, which allows the public to attend meetings so they can remain informed and decisions cannot be made in secret, according to the court documents.

They alleged that in a closed-door meeting, held on Feb. 7, the SUNY board discussed and approved plans to close LICH, although it was not explicitly mentioned on the agenda, according to court documents. 

The board's "vague" motion to begin their executive session and their skeletal agenda "seems intentionally designed to shield the purpose of the meeting from the general public and obstruct the transparency required by the Open Meetings Law," Baynes wrote in his decision.

"The determination [to close LICH] is annulled and the [SUNY trustees] are enjoined from proceeding with the plan to close LICH until such time as they comply with the mandates of the Open Meetings Law and all other applicable statutory provisions," Baynes ordered.

But SUNY slammed the decision, disagreeing with the court's interpretation of the board's meeting regarding LICH, according to a statement.

SUNY maintains that the ruling is merely a "procedural technicality and does not question SUNY or Downstate's legal ability to seek closure for LICH."

Last Friday, Baynes continued a temporary restraining order that had been issued earlier, barring SUNY Downstate from moving ahead with plans to shut the hospital down.

The Board of Trustees will meet next week to reconsider the original recommendation to seek the Department of Health's authorization on closing the hospital.

"SUNY Downstate is in a financial crisis. We are working diligently to preserve medical education, high quality patient care, and thousands of jobs for the Brooklyn community," the hospital said in a press release.

"Inaction and the status quo are simply not an option if we have any chance of succeeding."

Although the decision hinges solely on a technicality, LICH advocates saw Baynes' decision as a huge victory for Brooklyn patients and physicians.

“This ruling validates what nurses have been saying all along: SUNY acted unlawfully and irresponsibly when they voted to close our community hospital,” said Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, in a press release.

Dr. Toomas Sorra, representing Concerned Physicians for LICH, said he was concerned about the effect of LICH's closure on low-income families.

"Closing LICH would deprive Brooklyn of a critical health care resource and leave multiple Brooklyn neighborhoods without appropriate access to an emergency room and other necessary health care services," Sorra said in a statement.

Susan Shanahan, who has been a registered nurse at LICH for two years, said she believes the court's decision is a positive outcome for the hospital.

"I'm thrilled," said Shanahan, adding that any additional delay gives advocates time to find a suitable replacement to take over the hospital from SUNY Downstate, as well as time to continue caring for patients.

"This allows us to continue to fight the good fight," she said.