‘Once you dismantle something, you can’t build it back’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NOTE: This is the third article in our series devoted to our exclusive sit-down interview with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer refuted almost every argument made for the dismantling and redevelopment of Long Island College Hospital (LICH), at an exclusive round table interview in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday.
“I believe there’s a concerted effort to dismantle our hospital system throughout the city -- especially in Brooklyn, but not limited to Brooklyn,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
The Comptroller drew on the lessons learned during his tenure as Manhattan Borough President, when Greenwich Village lost St. Vincent’s Hospital. A condo is being built at the site.
“The mistake of St. Vincent’s, looking back, was just not getting in sooner to realize the financial condition of the hospital, and not having the creativity to keep them solvent,” Stringer said. “St. Vincent’s was too little, too late. The notion that the hospital wasn’t forthcoming about its financials early on limited what could happen.”
In Brooklyn, after two highly-contested attempts by the State University of New York (SUNY) to sell LICH for development, SUNY is cooperating with the community in a third Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a new operator for LICH. The community has pressed, successfully, for language in the latest RFP that will give priority to respondents who propose a full service hospital.
After the original round of bidding, SUNY chose Fortis Property as the developer of the site. Fortis had planned convert most of the LICH campus to residential units, and lease a fraction of the property to a health care provider for ambulatory care facilities –- first Pro Health, then later NYU Langone.
Stringer said, “I don’t think the goal of saving the hospital should basically be a wink to a developer who will then open up a Duane Reade in place of a hospital.”
Stringer also shot down the often-repeated but never-documented argument that Brooklyn has “too many hospital beds.”
Brooklyn has two hospital beds for every 1,000 residents. Manhattan, by comparison, has five hospital beds for every 1,000 residents, according to figures obtained by the New York State Nurses Association. (NYSNA)
“The argument I don’t buy at all is, ‘We don’t need these beds.’ That’s what people said about schools in certain communities. ‘You know,’” he mimicked, “‘The population’s declining, the school-age population isn’t what it was, we don’t have to build schools, we don’t have to invest in schools, in fact, maybe we can close schools!’”
“And then what we found in certain communities was, no, populations and demographics swing, and suddenly you have populations, baby booms you didn’t anticipate five years earlier.
“But once you dismantle something, you can’t build it back,” he said. “That’s why every time you lose an affordable housing unit, you make the mistake of thinking you can afford a new housing unit. So okay, we lose a hundred affordable housing units, so we’ll build new ones. New ones cost ten times the amount. Dismantling a hospital --- you can’t rebuild from scratch a hospital, you have a network and you have the brick and mortar of the hospital. You can’t bring that back.”
“When we realize that five or ten years from now, what do we do?" he asked. "It will cost us twelve times, twenty times more in terms of construction, so I think we’re at a health care crossroads, where creativity is needed and same old, same old isn’t going to cut it."
“When I was running for Comptroller I stood with the nurses, 1199, and the community around LICH and Interfaith,” Stringer said. “And I’m going to continue to work with my colleges on this issue.”