Trustees hear plans, prepare to face Brooklyn judge
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The SUNY board of trustees heard the pitches of four of the five developers competing to buy Long Island College Hospital (LICH) on Friday, but the board made no decision about which proposal it favored in the tumultuous windup of its disputed RFP (Request for Proposals) process.
Board members are facing a contempt hearing in state Supreme Court on Tuesday for their actions in attempting to close the hospital despite numerous court orders to keep it open.
In the meantime, Governor Andrew Cuomo told Capital New York on Thursday that the state might yet use some of the $10 billion Medicaid waiver funds to help save the hospital, despite the declaration by the head of the state Department of Health, Dr. Nirav Shah, that LICH was ineligible to receive the money.
Dr. Shah is himself one of the defendants in the contempt hearing.
One developer in the running earlier this week, Brisa Builders Corporation (with the Chetrit Group), has been disqualified by SUNY, according to SUNY spokesperson David Doyle.
Brisa’s Ericka Keller-Wala had claimed that the company was partnering with Northshore-LIJ for the LICH project, but Northshore told several publications that it was no longer considering the partnership.
The other bidders’ proposals closely matched the plans presented during a broadcast put together by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Wednesday, but several additional affiliated partners showed up.
Developers and businessmen John Catsimatidis and Rudy Washington, speaking in public about the project for the first time, told the board they are financing the only proposal promising to operate LICH as a full service hospital, a plan offered by The Chinese Community Accountable Care Organization.
Washington said their emphasis was not on property development but on “right-sizing” LICH’s facilities and operating a hospital that would be “self-sustaining without a lot of government funding.
“We looked at the balance sheet,” Washington said, and added that the partners would “settle the DASNY bonds valued at roughly $105 million.”
Catsimatidis said that Washington “is running our end of the deal, I just write the checks.” Getting the biggest – perhaps only -- laugh of the meeting, Catsimitedes declared, “I don’t have sex appeal, I have checks appeal.”
Louis Kestenbaum, chairman of Fortis Property Group, made a rare appearance to speak in favor of his company’s partnership with NYU-Langone. “I am a Brooklyn boy with roots in the neighborhood,” he said, adding that he is chairman of ODA Health Care Center in Willliamsburg.
Under the Fortis proposal, 75,000 square feet of LICH real estate would be devoted to medical purposes. The other roughly 700,000 square feet would be developed as housing. A member of the Fortis team said the housing component would involve $600 to $800 million of residential development, a mixture of rental and home ownership.
Dr. Richard B. Becker, CEO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, emphasized that the plan backed by developer Related Companies together with Blue Wolf Capital, would place health care in community clinics.
“It’s fine to have an emergency room, but really what patients need is easy access to care where they live,” he said. A “comprehensive 24/7” health care center at LICH would accept ambulances, he said, and provide “some bed capacity to observe patients.” For serious conditions, patients would be transferred to Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene.
Jeff Blau, Chief Executive of Related Companies, said the company aimed at building 750 units, “with 25 percent affordable and market rate housing.”
Don Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corporation emphasized his company’s role as the country's largest African American real estate development company, and touted the success of partner the Institute for Family Health in providing health care after North General Hospital in Harlem closed. Peebles’ proposal includes a 50,000-square-foot primary care facility, with up to 35 percent affordable housing; Don Peebles told the board that the rent would be roughly $1,300 a month.
Neil Calman, CEO of the Institute for Family Health, said an emergency room at a repurposed LICH site “wouldn’t make sense.”
“Free standing ERs are aimed for rural areas where people have a long ride,” he said. “It wouldn’t make sense to put people back in ambulances and send them back again” to another hospital.
All four of the bidders emphasized their extensive “community outreach” -- a statement that appears to surprise the community.
Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) told the Brooklyn Eagle, "To my knowledge, none of the five LICH bidders has contacted the Brooklyn Heights Association.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron’s spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said, “That's surprising to hear....”
“They all said they had the best interests of the community and patients in mind when developing their plans,” said Susan Raboy, spokesperson for Patient for LICH. “Not a one reached out to the Patients for LICH group. The coalition to save LICH gathered 18,000 signatures demanding that LICH stay open as a full service hospital. How many signatures supporting their plans did they collect? Which community leaders and elected officials representing the communities served by LICH did they speak with?”
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association (CHA), when asked if any of the developers reached out to the group, simply replied, "Hahahaha!"