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NY1 Exclusive: SUNY Downstate President To Recommend Closure Of LICH

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NY1 was first to report last month that SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn was looking to close one of its hospitals it owns in the borough to help solve its financial woes. Now, in an exclusive interview, the president of SUNY Downstate explained to NY1 why he believes it has to happen now. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

Hospital staff, elected officials and community members rallied last month to try to save Long Island College Hospital. It was a fight they've waged before. But now, it appears likely that the 150-year-old Cobble Hill medical institution known as LICH will close for good.

"It was my assessment that looking at Long Island College Hospital, that we were losing so much money that it was going to damage the system itself," said Dr. John Williams, president of SUNY Downstate. "So I had to make a very tough decision."

Williams sat down for an exclusive interview with NY1 to talk about that decision. It comes two years after SUNY Downstate took over LICH in an attempt to save it. Instead, LICH has been a drain on the rest of the Downstate system, so Williams said he'll recommend that SUNY's Board of Trustees vote to shut LICH down.

"If we continue to hemorrhage money like we are right now, we can take down SUNY Downstate as well, and that threatens the medical school, school of nursing, school of public health, allied health," he said. "We just can't afford to do it."

LICH has been losing money for 17 years. Williams blames its problems on a combination of the recession, Medicaid and Medicare cuts, neighborhood residents getting their medical care in Manhattan, and some mismanagement. He came on board about a year and a half ago.

"If you look at my budget, 75 percent of my budget goes to payroll and benefits," he said. "That means you operate a hospital on 25 percent. That's a very, very difficult thing to do."

Williams said that SUNY Downstate as a whole is undergoing a restructuring plan to get it back on financial track. He said that the situation is so bad, money will run out by the end of March if something is not done.

He said saving SUNY Downstate's main campus in East Flatbush is his priority.

"We're the biggest supplier of physicians of all the SUNY schools," he said. "If you look at Columbia and Cornell, combined, they don't produce as many doctors from New York as Downstate does."

There is a public hearing about LICH's proposed closure on Thursday. On Friday, the Board of Trustees will vote on it. The State Department of Health would still have to approve the plan.

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