Officials applaud ‘sweeping’ agreement, but details not in
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Attorneys for the State University of New York (SUNY) and advocates for Long Island College Hospital (LICH) announced on Thursday at state Supreme Court in Brooklyn that they had worked out a settlement so sweeping that history was being made.
After more than 30 hours of round-the-clock negotiations, lawyers for both sides declared before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, “We have a settlement!” but added that their clients had to formally vote to finalize the process before exact details could be publicly announced on Friday.
A few of the details of the proposed agreement were described, however, in a somewhat dryly-worded joint release from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall, and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday afternoon.
According to their statement, the settlement includes “an expedited RFP [Request for Proposals] submission process” to find a new operator for LICH.
A new RFP taking the health needs of the community into consideration, rather than LICH's real estate value, was one of the core requirements of the coalition of community groups, unions, and others who have been fighting SUNY’s attempts to close LICH.
The expedited RFP would turn around in a matter of weeks, with involvement from the community and elected officials, "followed by a seven-day selection period." Unlike SUNY's original RFP process, the community and elected officials would be allowed to hear bidders' proposals and have a voice in the final outcome.
The joint release also said that the agreement would end “all pending and future litigation” and allow SUNY “to exit operations of the facility no later than May 2014,” while providing “an agreed upon process to deliver a viable long-term health care solution for the community.”
“Today’s agreement is a victory for all parties involved and paves the way for putting a long-term, sustainable health care facility in place for the residents of Brooklyn,” Governor Cuomo said in the statement.
The Governor, who has worked to obtain Medicaid waiver funds for teetering Brooklyn hospitals, is aiming to cut back on hospital beds -- which he called, “yesterday’s costly, inefficient models of delivering service” -- and replace them with primary care facilities as part of a health care redesign plan.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took a decisive and much-publicized stand to preserve LICH while serving as public advocate, celebrated the agreement as a victory. "For months we were told the free-fall closure of Long Island College Hospital was inevitable. We fought back. We went to court to keep the padlocks off the doors. We fought shoulder to shoulder with this community and used all the tools of City government to press for a better outcome. And now, we have a resolution that finally puts people's health first.”
De Blasio added, "This agreement represents the culmination of all the tremendous work by nurses and doctors, neighborhood associations, patients and elected officials who refused to back down. . . .Protecting continuity of care and ensuring the healthcare needs of this community are met will now be the yardstick by which proposals for the future of LICH are measured.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said, “After a year-long struggle to save Long Island College Hospital, we finally have an agreement that will preserve healthcare access for our communities. Thanks to the work of community activists, leaders, and our partners, the community will have a seat at the table.”
Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James planned a press conference for Friday after Justice Baynes' court session.
SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall said the settlement “ensures New York’s system of public higher education can once again return to its core academic mission.
“We have agreed to an expedited reopening of the RFP process because it was clear that this was the only way to end the costly and unproductive legal proceedings and was therefore in the best interest of SUNY,” he said.
McCall urged the previous bidders in the two original RFP rounds “to resubmit their proposals,” but at least one developer, the Peebles Corporation, was not sure it wanted to sign on for another go-round. "We aren’t sure we are going to participate in a third round as we are losing confidence in the process," Peebles spokesman Robert Ford told the Brooklyn Eagle. "Our proposal, as it currently stands, combines the best healthcare and overall benefits for the community.
He added, "Our proposal and team have been consistent from initial submission where others have not. We believe strongly in our healthcare provider and affordable housing component."
A participant close to the case told the Brooklyn Eagle late on Thursday that significant details were not fully discussed in the official statement, and re-iterated that stakeholders and the court had not yet approved the agreement.
Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, told the Eagle on Thursday, however, that the deal “achieves the core principles” that his clients have listed as priorities. Walden represents six community groups suing SUNY for its attempts to close LICH in the face of seven court orders issued by Justice Baynes. The groups include the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association and Wykoff Gardens Association, Inc. Other parties to LICH lawsuits include NYSNA, 1199SEIU, Physicians for LICH and patients.
A ‘groundbreaking’ settlement
While details were not discussed on Thursday, attorneys in the courtroom sounded almost awestruck with the settlement, described as so "groundbreaking" that none of them had ever experienced anything like it in careers that stretched, in some cases, as far back as 40 years.
Walden, along with New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) attorney Richard Seltzer and SUNY attorney Frank Carone are among the attorneys who have been working on the massively complex case since it began a year ago.
They all expressed profound gratitude to Justice Baynes and credited him with guiding the parties to an ending that none could have predicted when the legal battle broke out.
“The agreement we are about to announce came about primarily because of you,” Walden said to Justice Baynes. “For a year you have been patient, fair to all parties, and learned the case better than any of the attorneys. You moved us along. You gave us the wisdom to finally form the most sweeping Article 78 decision I’ve ever seen in my career. We owe you a debt of gratitude.”
SUNY’s Carone praised Justice Baynes for his “calm, steady hand,” adding, “We’ve been going over 30 hours straight, and we’re not stopping until we come in with the documents for your approval.”
NYSNA’s Richard Seltzer said that the yearlong case was “the most extraordinary experience of my legal career.” He echoed his appreciation of Justice Baynes’ role. “You knew when to push, when to pull, when to come to a settlement.”
For his part, Justice Baynes said he had not seen a case like this in all his years as a judge. “You train lawyers to try a case, not necessarily to settle a case – that’s where the intangibles come in.
“We did – we – some of the most difficult work I’ve seen in 21 years. I’ve never seen a case where the attorney general recuses himself from a case. I’ve heard some of the terms, and I am impressed. I thank the attorneys, the community groups, the unions. At the end of the day, I have to say, a job well done.”
Adding a note of caution, he added, “Not to be premature, but I’ve been around 21 years . . . I’m hoping this is it.” He everyone to get back to court at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
LICH supporters leaving the courtroom after the proceedings were both jubilant and unsure of how complete their victory had been.
NYSNA member Susan Shanahan, a nurse at LICH, told the Brooklyn Eagle that it was “exciting to hear the judge use those kinds of adjectives. We’ve been fighting for a full-service hospital. What the parameters are we don’t yet know.” Until more details are revealed, she said, “One more night with no sleep.”
Susan Raboy, spokesperson for Patients for LICH, said she had faith in our lawyers that “the best possible deal” was being worked out, adding, “Patients for LICH are waiting to hear what the settlement is.”
Doctor Alice Garner, Chief of the Neonatal unit at LICH, said, “If the settlement involves LICH continuing it as a full-service hospital, then I’m all for it.”
LICH coalition members heaped praise on Thursday on the elected officials representing LICH’s service area -- Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and City Councilmembers Brad Lander, Steve Levin, and Carlos Menchaca – who have worked over the course of the year to preserve LICH.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the officials, who have attended rallies, marched over bridges and even gotten arrested for LICH, said:
"We've long urged SUNY and the State to agree to a new, more open RFP process for LICH, to make sure our community and all of Brooklyn have the best possible healthcare outcome.
"And, finally, SUNY has come to agreement with the community and healthcare providers on a process that achieves this basic goal, while offering added transparency and community input.
"Now, it's critical that the process moves forward in good faith and in a timely way, with meaningful community participation from the many neighborhoods that LICH serves. We will continue to work with SUNY, the community, and our colleagues to ensure that LICH continues to provide care, and play the role that Brooklyn needs."
Community, union members and other LICH supporters have seen babies born, jobs lost, political reputations made, and lives transformed over the course of the long battle, which united neighborhoods from Red Hook to DUMBO in a remarkably cohesive coalition.
Michael Simon, a member of Patients for LICH, told the Eagle, “Since the first candlelight vigil a year ago, I’ve been proud to be a part of the community fighting for a hospital and . . . feel hopeful for a settlement beneficial to the community.”
Adam Cohen, an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, mused about his experience working on what has turned into an epic case.
“I feel very proud of this case, and of our firm,” he told the Eagle. “Our commitment is just exemplary.” Cohen said that Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher started on the case on July 19 for then-Public Advocate de Blasio. “It’s been quite a ride – it’s been spectacular,” he said.
Updated at 10 p.m. with a quote from the Peebles Corporation.