Advocates, elected officials and union members chanting “Show us the money!” gathered outside Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Sunday to protest the state’s demand that the ailing hospital turn over its clinics to Kingsborough Jewish Medical Center before the state releases $3.5 million in promised funding.
“We have a very precarious situation right now,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Interfaith will run out of money by the end of the week — they can’t make payroll past this pay period. New York state has refused to release $3.5 million.” Ms. James said that additional federal VAP funds (Vital Access Provider) were also being held up.
“They are holding the hospital hostage because the board responded to elected officials and the community and decided not to sell off its parts,” James said. “Now DASNY [Dormitory Authority of the State of New York] said it’s not releasing the money. That’s unacceptable.”
DASNY provides financing and construction services to universities and healthcare facilities.
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-25) said, “Why are we begging for $3.5 million to keep open a few more weeks, when on Atlantic Avenue we spent over half a billion on a sports arena? This is an abominable move on the part of the state to shut down this institution.”
Mentioning other endangered hospitals in the borough — SUNY Downstate, Long Island College Hospital (LICH), Wyckoff Heights Medical Center — Sen. Montgomery added, “There is a move against hospitals in Brooklyn unlike anything seen ever before. The buck stops with Governor Cuomo.” She warned the governor, “If we close, he gets shut down in our minds in the county of Kings.”
On January 16, DASNY said in a legal filing that it wouldn’t provide the money because Interfaith’s refusal to divest itself of its clinics placed it in default of their funding agreement. “Interfaith has ceased working with DOH and DASNY and, in particular, has refused to transition its clinics to Kingsbrook,” DASNY said.
Interfaith attorneys said the state was being “dysfunctional” by telling the hospital to stay open until March but cutting off the funds that would have allowed it to do so. Interfaith also says that DASNY’s complaint “relies on alleged technical defaults … that DASNY had agreed in principle to waive.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-8) told the crowd that the neighborhoods served by Interfaith suffer from “disproportionately high rates of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, childhood obesity. We need more health care, not less.”
Jeffries said that Interfaith’s clinics “are vital to the ecosystem of the hospital and to its survival. You can’t say you want to save the hospital and close the clinics. Those clinic transfers were based on Interfaith shutting down. But when the $3.5 million was promised, the shutdown was averted. If the shutdown is not imminent, the transfer of the clinics should not take place.”
Jeffries added, “We are hopeful that the judge will see it that way on Tuesday,” when a conference between DASNY and Interfaith has been scheduled in bankruptcy court.
Chaos erupted on Friday afternoon when Interfaith’s CEO Patrick Sullivan, citing lack of funds, ordered ambulances diverted from Interfaith’s emergency room. Protesters flocked to the hospital, and Sullivan left the premises under guard. Control of Interfaith was assumed by Chief Medical Officer Pradeep Chandra, and ambulances began to roll again that night.
Sullivan had already announced his plans to step down at the end of the month.
Interfaith supporters blame DASNY for the unnecessary drama. “I’m extremely frustrated that DASNY’s recent actions precipitated this crisis and led to a sense of panic in the community,” Councilmember Robert Cornegy (D-36) said. “All of our negotiations have been focused on preserving the essential medical services on which the people of central Brooklyn rely. The state acknowledged the validity of this goal by agreeing to fund the hospital throughout the winter. For DASNY to now take actions that threaten basic services is completely unacceptable.”
Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said, “This community is very lacking in primary care networks. The only existing networks will be wiped out if this hospital closes.”
“A community needs schools, housing and health care,” Assembly Member Annette Robinson said, adding that Interfaith supplies more than health services to the community: “Clothing, help finding a place to live. We don’t just let people go in and go out, then say ‘you’re discharged.'” Robinson said officials would be asking Mayor de Blasio to intervene, “as he has done in the past.”
Sharonnie Perry, chairwoman of the hospital’s community advisory board, said that the Department of Health (DOH) “showed up this morning unannounced. We hope to get a commitment from them as to what day the money will be here this week. Thousands of people in central Brooklyn use this facility. This week they had to open up the fourth floor — we were at 104 percent of capacity on Friday.”
Ms. Perry said that on Thursday, the hospital’s Bishop Orris G. Walker, Jr. Clinic served 22 people; the dental clinic took care of 26 people; and the Community Health clinic served 100 patients. “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now,” she said.
Councilmember Cornegy said that Mayor de Blasio “agreed to meet with us. We’re looking to use city resources to fill in, discuss what the city can do resource-wise.”
Annually, Interfaith provides roughly 200,000 outpatient clinic visits, 50,000 emergency department visits and 11,000 discharges. Of the outpatient clinic visits, more than 90,000 are in the behavioral health area.