AG and Comptroller reviewing SUNY’s sale of hospital to developer
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Many carried signs and some carried canes: A crowd of Brooklyn residents and officials marched down Atlantic Avenue on Sunday to rally for Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill.
NYPD’s 84th Precinct blocked intersections as the procession, organized by the advocacy group Patients for LICH, wound its way to Hicks Street for speeches outside the closed hospital.
LICH supporters have been fighting for almost two years to keep the hospital from being replaced with condos. Fortis Property Group’s bid won a convoluted and much contested RFP, issued by SUNY.
Marchers hope to catch the attention of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who must sign off on the deal before LICH can be officially sold.
“Officials and the community continue to be angry about the whole process over the last several years. The way it was handled did not give the community confidence,” said City Councilmember Brad Lander (Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope).
“What happened to the Othmer Endowment money? Was the bidding process legal and appropriate? At so many points it appeared rigged, there’s no other word for it,” Lander said. “Officials have written to Attorney General Schneiderman and Comptroller DiNapoli. We’re asking the Attorney General and the Comptroller to thoroughly investigate these questions."
As part of Fortis’ proposal, NYU-Langone said it would operate a “walk-in” emergency department and medical offices on the site, with a target opening date in 2018. SUNY continues to operate a small emergency clinic in LICH’s former pediatric ER.
Community associations and officials say northwest Brooklyn’s exploding population requires a full-service hospital, not a walk-in ER.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights) asked the crowd, “How can we say no to this hospital at a time when we are facing a health crisis? This hospital has been there for this community.”
Jo Anne Simon, who won the Democratic primary for Assembly District 52, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The goal of the [legal] settlement was that health care would be given greater weight. It does not appear from the execution process that it was. That’s why we’re calling upon the Attorney General and Comptroller to review the sale.”
She added that officials also want the AG and Comptroller to review the Othmer endowment. “Nobody knows what happened to the Othmer funds.”
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, said an assessment of community needs was not carried out before the hospital was closed.
“We can’t allow them to claim there is ‘continuity of care,’” Strabone said. “I’m certain when the politicians show up for the ribbon-cutting at NYU’s ER they will say there is continuity of care. When you replace a hospital with 12 observational beds, there’s no continuity and little care.”
A bit of bipartisan solidarity
Joseph Nardiello, president of the Brownstone Republican Club said, “I was born at LICH. I personally marched across the Brooklyn Bridge after the nurses were let go. The fault lies with the state government for closing the hospital.”
Recently, he said, one of his relatives spent “seven-and-a-half hours at [New York] Methodist Hospital on a gurney in the hallway. This is the picture of the future of Brooklyn health care.”
Striking a tone of bipartisan fellowship, Nardiello said he stood with Brooklyn Democrats on the issue of LICH. “We have to stand together as a community, use our voices together, not do anything divisive. We have to get through to Cuomo, get to SUNY to open the books.
“Cuomo must go. I don’t care if you vote Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Independent -- get him out,” he said, to the applause of the crowd.
The Kumbaya moment was lost, however, when John Jasilli, Republican candidate for the 52nd AD (opposing Simon) went on the offensive.
“Democratic officials here have some nerve showing up. They were here during the whole LICH fiasco. Their were either negligent or complicit,” he accused.
Groans erupted from the crowd. “That’s not the proper thing to discuss, they’re right here,” said one LICH supporter. “You can’t do that,” said another.
“My time is up,” Jasilli said, quickly turning over the mic.
Separately, Jasilli told the Eagle, “There should be hearings at the legislative level. If Republicans were elected, that would happen.”
Another crowded ER
Another report of an overcrowded ER came from Susan Raboy, founder of Patients for LICH. She described her experience when she had to rush a friend to Brooklyn Hospital Center’s Emergency Room.
“She got good care in the ER. But 13 other patients were waiting in the ER, and 26 EMTs were with them. That means 13 ambulances were not serving Brooklyn. When the EMTs saw my ‘Patients for LICH’ button, they said to me, ‘You’ve got to keep LICH open.’
“On another floor the care at the hospital was not up to quality,” Raboy asserted. “I’ve seen it first hand. We need to restore a full-service hospital so my friend doesn’t have to go back there.”
Local resident Robert Pepper, husband of event organizer Brenda Pepper, read a letter of support sent by Zephyr Teachout, who demonstrated surprising strength against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary.
“SUNY's sale of LICH to a luxury condo developer demonstrated some of the worst aspects of our democracy today: wealthy donors influencing officials to dismantle a public good for private gain,” the letter read in part. (The letter will be posted online at brooklyneagle.com in the near future.)
When asked about the rumor that the state would not sign off on the sale of LICH until after the Nov. 4 election, Lander told the Brooklyn Eagle that local officials ”have not gotten a sense of the timing” of the AG’s and Comptroller’s reviews.
“These are not supposed to be political reviews,” he said. “The signoffs are legal due diligence. I trust both of them will comply with their obligation under the law.”
Other participants included Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’ community coordinator Dan Wiley, NYS Sen. Daniel Squadron’s Brooklyn Director Zeeshan Ott, the Florence Johnston Collective and health care workers.