The State University of New York's Board of Trustees met in Westchester County Tuesday afternoon to once again approve the closing of Brooklyn's Long Island College Hospital, which has been struggling financially.
The board, meeting today on the campus of SUNY Purchase, previously voted in February to close LICH, but last week a judge blocked the move, saying it violated the state's Open Meetings Law.
LICH, located in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, is part of the struggling SUNY Downstate medical system, which according to officials could run out of money by the end of the month.
"We're running out of money. We'll be insolvent next month. We have no money," said Carl McCall, the SUNY board chairman and former state comptroller. "If we have no money, we can't operate the rest of it. That's the only reason."
To comply with state transparency laws, the SUNY board allowed for an hour of public comments before the vote. Three busloads of LICH employees and patients came up to SUNY Purchase to make last-minute pleas for their hospital to be spared.
Most of the attending LICH employees said it was unfair to have the vote on the closing so far away from the affected community, and said the meeting was a poor attempt at public dialogue.
"It's not a surprise that they voted to close our hospital. It's outrageous, though, that they did this in Westchester and deliberately shot out the public that deserve to be here, that are most affected by the decision today," said Julie Semente, a registered nurse at LICH's intensive care unit.
"In Brooklyn, that's where the hospital is, that's where the community is and that's where this meeting should take place," said Loreto Gasmen, a perioperative nurse at LICH. "We had to take a bus ride here in inclement weather, rainy and snowy. We have to sacrifice our off day."
Some people at LICH were also allowed to speak before the SUNY board via videoconference before Tuesday's vote, and others were allowed to watch a live video feed of the meeting in University Hospital of Brooklyn.
Board members answered several questions from the public, saying they've even reached out to other area hospitals to consider taking over management of LICH. But in the end, they insisted that their only option is to close the hospital or forfeit the rest of the SUNY system.
"We are resource poor, and we don't have the financial sustenance to keep LICH open," said Nancy Zimpher, a SUNY chancellor. "And we do have to be conscious of the effect that has on, not only on UHB and the Downstate medial college, but on all our colleges."
LICH supporters, though, questioned how SUNY is managing its finances.
"Everybody feels stressed. It's illegal," said Luz Astanfanous, a LICH housekeeper. "Patients? We full. Money? We have. But I don't know what they do with the money. "
LICH employees told NY1 that they will continue to fight to keep their hospital open and will bring their concerns to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"They're not God," Semente said. "They're not the final word. And this is just the beginning."
The SUNY Downstate system is considering other money-saving measures, such as restructuring its teaching hospital, University Hospital of Brooklyn.