By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The state Attorney General and Comptroller on Tuesday approved SUNY's plan to sell Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to real estate developer Fortis Property Group.
The decision was praised by a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been backing NYU-Langone Medical Center’s plan to build a “standalone” emergency department in a new building at the site.
But it disappointed Brooklyn officials and community groups, who have been pushing for the AG and Comptroller’s offices to investigate what they said appeared to be a “rigged” bidding process.
In a joint statement published by Capitol NY, SUNY Chair Carl McCall and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said the approval demonstrated “that the contract complies with all state laws and the court-mandated settlement agreement, and allows the full and seamless transition of the facility to commence immediately.”
“We’ve all worked hard to get this across the finish line,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesperson Wiley Norvell said on Wednesday.
“This community deserves a state of the art healthcare facility. It deserves a fully-functional emergency department. It deserves specialty services that can meet the specific needs of the people who live and work nearby. The 125,000 square foot healthcare facility, run by one of the most respected hospital systems in the nation, will meet those needs. We’re proud that come Friday, there will be more and better healthcare in this corner of Brooklyn.”
Kate Gurnett, press secretary for the NYS Comptroller's Office said in a statement, "Our office has reviewed and approved the contract to sell Long Island College Hospital (LICH) for $240 million to Fortis Property Group and NYU Health Center. The Attorney General’s Office has also reviewed and approved the sale. The deal ensures the uninterrupted delivery of medical services for the Brooklyn community and removes the State University of New York from a money-losing operation."
Questions remain, however, including SUNY’s obligation to pay back LICH’s $140 million Othmer Endowment. As a condition of SUNY’s no-cash takeover of LICH from Continuum Health Partners in 2011, SUNY agreed to repay the money, which had been borrowed.
According to the settlement papers signed by all parties, state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest retains jurisdiction over trust-related issues.
On Sunday, Brooklyn officials marched and rallied for LICH with residents furious with the sale of the 156-year-old hospital and the growing crisis in Brooklyn’s emergency departments.
“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,” City Councilmember Brad Lander said at the rally.
“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."
The advocacy group Patients for LICH said in a statement late Wednesday, "In fighting SUNY's destruction of our hospital, we have discovered that in Governor Cuomo's New York State the community has little voice or power. We are disappointed but not surprised that neither Comptroller DiNapoli nor Attorney General Schneiderman had the courage to stand up against Cuomo and stop the corruption that has marked SUNY's ownership of LICH and the biased RFP process that has resulted in the sale of LICH for condos. Our elected officials have called for an investigation into SUNY's' destruction of our 156 year old hospital and the draining of its $140 million endowment. We will continue to fight for these wrongs to be righted."
“Some parts of the world have one-party rule. New York State has one-man rule,” Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, said late Wednesday. “Whatever Cuomo wants, Cuomo gets. Today it’s hospitals. Who knows what public institutions he’ll want to sell next?”
“If SUNY truly believes that this settlement ensures health care for our communities they clearly never listened to what the communities served by LICH were saying or needed. They never cared about our lives,” said Sue Raboy, founder of Patients for LICH, speaking as an individual.
As part of Fortis’ proposal, NYU-Langone said it would operate a “freestanding” 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 have maintained over two years of protests and litigation that northwest Brooklyn’s exploding population requires a full-service hospital, not a freestanding ER.
Updated with statement from the Comptroller's Office on Wednesday at 12 p.m.
Updated with statement from the Mayor's Office on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.