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Advocates Nearing Deal to Keep LICH ER Open as Rest of Hospital Shutters

By Nikhita Venugopal | May 22, 2014 4:37pm | Updated on May 22, 2014 5:15pm
 Signs reading "Save LICH!" were displayed to passing cars, many of whom honked in support of protesters during a rally last year.
Signs reading "Save LICH!" were displayed to passing cars, many of whom honked in support of protesters during a rally last year.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

COBBLE HILL — Advocates were nearing a deal Thursday to keep at least part of the embattled Long Island College Hospital open even as the rest of the facility was set to shutter.

Community groups reached an agreement with the Peebles Corporation, the current frontrunner in negotiations with the State University of New York, which would staff and maintain the emergency department starting May 27.

Ambulance services would returning by mid-July under the deal.

But the agreement is not complete until SUNY and Peebles, which is partnering with Maimonides Medical Center, North-Shore-LIJ and ProHEALTH, reach an agreement on the $260 million proposal. Attorneys believe they are close to making a deal but have until June 6.

While the state planned to shut down LICH on Thursday, officials agreed Wednesday evening to temporarily maintain the facility’s emergency department for walk-in patients.

Judge Johnny Lee Baynes, who has presided over litigation regarding the hospital for the last 15 months, signed off on the latest deal but cautioned that negotiations between SUNY and Peebles could go sour.

“I’m here for the long-haul,” he said.

While the eleventh-hour deal prevented the hospital from completely shuttering and it maintains some some medical services at the facility, it's far from a full service hospital, which activists had fought for. 

The Peebles Corporation's proposal will provide a 24-hour freestanding emergency department and an urgent care center as well as primary, specialty and diagnostic services. The proposal also includes residential units with up to 35 percent for affordable housing.

At the LICH campus, the Peebles team will offer ambulatory surgery, pediatric, geriatric and dental primary care services, cardiac diagnostic center and specialty care services, including radiation oncology and a chemotherapy infusion center.

Part of the deal with Peebles is a “community-medical-needs assessment,” an independent study to determine the medical services needed in the area, attorney Jim Walden said Thursday.

The study will take place “as soon as practicable,” according to the agreement, but no specific date was mentioned.

Once the study is published, LICH’s new owner would work to provide the services deemed necessary in the study “subject to reasonable feasibility conditions,” according to the agreement.

After more than a year of rallies, protests and litigation, the hospital will remain open with only an emergency department. There will be no intensive care unit, operating rooms and, until July 15 or sooner, ambulance services.

If SUNY does not sign an agreement with Peebles, the state will move to Fortis Property Group.

Since the hospital will not have in-patient services, critical patients cannot be admitted to LICH and will be transferred to other facilities.

For nurses and healthcare workers, it was “a day of pain,” said Richard Seltzer, attorney for the New York State Nurses Association.

Hundreds of employees have been laid off from LICH and more will be forced to leave Thursday at midnight when the rest of the hospital closes. There were once 460 union nurses at LICH. On Thursday, 158 remained and only 47 working in the emergency department. Two hundred employees of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East were currently working at the hospital after about 800 had been laid off.

“It is the employees at LICH who have kept the doors… open,” Seltzer said.

Julie Semente, who has been a nurse at LICH’s intensive care unit for 30 years, was set to work her last shift at the hospital Thursday evening.

But Semente and others remained hopeful that the community healthcare assessment would prove the need for more medical services in Brooklyn.

“Hopefully it is reopened in the near future as a hospital,” she said.

Earlier this week, Semente and other nurses in the ICU walked from bed to bed, recalling patients they had cared for in the past.

There are still two patients in the ICU, who were set to be transferred on Thursday, Semente said.

“LICH is family,” she said. “LICH has been through a lot over the years.”

During the last few hours before her shift ends at 7 p.m., Semente will be collecting phone numbers of soon-to-be former colleagues, walking through the unit one more time and stopping to watch the sun as it sets over Red Hook.

“I might take a picture of that,” she said.