After hearing those arguments, Kings County Supreme Court Judge Betsy Barrows on Feb. 20 signed a temporary restraining order barring SUNY from closing the hospital until a court hearing on the closure March 7.
Shortly after Judge Barros signed the restraining order, SUNY released a letter to Brooklyn politicians from Dr. John Williams, president of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, notifying them that SUNY had filed a closure plan with the state Department of Health. SUNY has declined to reveal any details of that plan, including when it might close the facility.
Regardless of what happens in court on March 7, a closing would not happen immediately. Federal labor law requires a 90-day notice of a facility closing. The state Department of Health would also have to approve SUNY's plan.
A SUNY spokesman said the restraining order would delay the closing, but not stop it. "We are confident we will prevail in the lawsuit," he said. The delay "will cost Downstate [SUNY Downstate Medical Center] more money it can ill afford." A January audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found the hospital was losing $4 million a month and that it faced insolvency.
The ruling will give unions and the Concerned Physicians of LICH more time to convince state Department of Health officials that the community hospital, which doubles as a training ground for SUNY Downstate's nearby medical school, serves a vital need.
"This is one of many things we plan to do to give us a chance to show the department how important LICH is," said a spokeswoman for the New York State Nurses Association, which with 1199-SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the LICH physicians filed the request for the restraining order.
If sold, the Cobble Hill campus could fetch over $500 million, local real estate agents have said.
Under the terms of the restraining order, SUNY is temporarily barred from further communications on the subject with the health department.