By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dr. Richard B. Becker, CEO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center hit a brick wall in Red Hook Tuesday night when he tried to sell a proposal that would close Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
At an outreach meeting at Red Hook Volunteers, the roughly 20 attendees expressed exasperation with Dr. Becker’s insistence that an urgent care center, small emergency department and satellite clinics could adequately replace the historic hospital complex.
In the proposal, put together by developer Related Companies and Blue Wolf Capital, the majority of LICH’s valuable Brownstone real estate would be developed as residential. Representatives from those companies, including Related’s Jay Kriegel, remained silent, however, while Dr. Becker defended the plan.
The proposal “doesn’t focus services at LICH,” Dr. Becker said. “We’re moving the service to where people can get to it.” Mount Sinai Medical Center would play a role in providing ambulatory care services, he said.
Despite repeated declarations from audience members that what Red Hook really needs is a full service hospital, Dr. Becker said multiple times, “We’re not proposing that.”
“Then your proposal needs to be upgraded,” said Red Hook activist Sheryl Braxton. Braxton said her two-year-old had to wait 80 minutes to be seen during a recent emergency room visit to New York Methodist. “What are we supposed to do, sit on the floor? We want the same kind of services we have now at LICH.”
Resident Annette Amendola said that when SUNY Downstate, LICH’s current operator, placed LICH’s ambulances on diversion, “My cousin died in an ambulance four blocks from LICH.”
“You can’t take this away from us,” she said. “If you want to be part of our community, you have to give us what we want. Why can’t you run LICH as a 150-bed hospital and if you need more beds, open a floor?”
Medical care is changing, Becker said. “We didn’t create the situation,” he said. “We’re reacting the way LICH should have acted. Let us help the community transform the way healthcare is delivered.”
An audience member called out that the main beneficiary of closing LICH would be Brooklyn Hospital’s bottom line.
New RFP's goal: Keep LICH a hospital
SUNY has been trying to close LICH for more than a year, but non-stop protests and a ferocious legal battle led to the SUNY reissuing the Request for Proposals (RFP), this time with the goal of “a full service inpatient hospital that reflects the values and needs of the community.”
Related Cos./Brooklyn Hospital’s plan is little changed from one they proposed in the earlier, now moot, round of bidding.
The earlier RFP emphasized financial considerations for SUNY over health care services for the LICH community, which includes Brooklyn neighborhoods from Red Hook, through Downtown Brooklyn, to Williamsburg.
In the new RFP, proposals will receive more points if their plan calls for keeping LICH in operation as a full service hospital.
Becker indicated, however, that his hands were tied. “I’m not here to tell you that LICH will remain a hospital,” he said. “We’re not in a position to run two hospitals.”
Tiny ER catches crowd by surprise
John McGettrick, co-president of the Red Hook Civic Association, tried to pin Dr. Becker down on details regarding the proposed ambulatory service. “How many square feet of the LICH complex? What percentage will be dedicated to medical services?” he asked.
Dr. Becker refused to provide exact numbers or locations. “Let me take a step back,” he said. “The data show that when people take their medicine, understand how to live a healthy lifestyle, modify their diets, their health care outcomes improve so they don’t need to live so close to a full service hospital.”
Some attendees gasped when Becker said the Related/Brooklyn Hospital proposal would provide only a total of “15 adult and pediatric ER bays” in the promised emergency department and “a small number of short stay observation beds.”
Becker said the ER could treat “all but the most serious” patients, though he acknowledged that treatment for many would consist of stabilization before transporting them to Brooklyn Hospital.
Currently, LICH’s ER, with roughly 40 adult ER beds plus additional pediatric, psychiatric and “Fast Track” beds, is averaging 75-85 patients a day even in its reduced state.
Besides ER visits, there were 35 patients admitted at LICH as of Tuesday.
“Brooklyn is well below average for hospital beds,” said an audience member. “It’s hyperbolic to say there are too many beds. In Manhattan, there are over six beds per thousand residents. We only get two.”
Despite audience applause, Dr. Becker repeated, “Our proposal does not include hospital services. If you like another proposal better, you should go with it,” he said.
Murmurs of “We will,” could be heard.
An insider told the Eagle that a different bid by Fortis Property Group (partnering with L&M and KF Brock, NYU-Langone and Lutheran Family Health Centers) would provide only 10 to 12 ER bays and four observational beds.
100-bed hospital already proposed
Becker said that Brooklyn Hospital was in talks with Robert Fliegel, interim executive director of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, to open another health clinic “in an area in Red Hook that you identify.”
That clinic is apparently not a done deal, however.
“I am on the board of directors of the Addabbo Center, representing Mr. Fliegel,” said audience member Beatrice Byrd. Byrd said the clinic would not happen “unless the board approves it. I need to articulate what you are planning to do to a 15-member board. It’s no easy walk to freedom. We have heard these proposals before, from any hospital that’s failing -- St. John’s, Interfaith.”
Attendees called out Dr. Becker on several of the facts he presented on Tuesday, including his contention that none of the other bidders in the RFP process were offering to operate LICH as a full service hospital.
“No! We’ve had a 100-bed proposal!” said Maribel Agosto, a LICH nurse who grew up in Red Hook.
“I stand corrected,” Dr. Becker quickly replied.
A bidding group made up of the Chinese Community Accountable Care Organization (CCACO), partnering with the Eastern Chinese American Physician IPA, developer John Catsimatidis and Rudy Washington proposed a full service hospital in the first rounds of bidding and have told the Eagle that they intend to participate in this latest round.
The audience also argued with Dr. Becker’s contention that Brooklyn Hospital Center was just a mile from LICH.
Besides being a mile and a half, in traffic, “It’s at least 16 minutes from LICH,” said the Red Hook Star-Review’s Kimberly Gail Price. “Add more if you’re coming from Red Hook.” Critically-injured patients would have to be transported from LICH to the Brooklyn Hospital Center. “When you transport someone in critical care, even six minutes away, you’re putting lives at risk,” she said.
Some audience members wondered why Brooklyn Hospital and Related held the “outreach” if they were not going to take any suggestions from the community.
“If you had listened to the community first, you would not need to be here,” said one resident. “The RFP [Request for Proposals] should reflect what the people want. If people tell you they don’t want to lose LICH, you need to incorporate that. You’re trying to do this top down instead of bottom up.”
After the presentation, Patients for LICH’s Sue Raboy told the Eagle, “The audacity of Becker to stand there and tell us he’s going to do away with LICH, and if we don’t like it, find another bidder! Tonight's presentation clearly proved that Brooklyn Hospital could care less what the community needs.”
“The possibility of a full service hospital is back again on the table. And that’s what we need,” Red Hook Civic Association’s McGettrick told the Eagle.
“It is great to see the bidders coming to the community. We did not see this sort of outreach before,” said attorney Jim Walden, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who represents six community groups in the legal battle to keep LICH open. “But, the community needs love, not pillow talk: they want a full-service hospital. Our suitor will be the proposer who delivers it.”
Other groups said to be submitting bids, besides Related Cos., Fortis and CCACO, include Peebles Corporation (partnering with the Institute for Family Health); Brisa Builders (partnering with the Chetrit Group); and other names including Toll Brother and Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Sandy only made it worse
Tashonda Haugabrook, VP of Operations at Red Hook Volunteers told the Eagle on Tuesday that Red Hook has still not recovered from Hurricane Sandy. “People don’t realize that Sandy is still going on. The mold is a problem, and Sandy has contributed to it in such a big way.”
Haugabrook said that Red Hook Volunteers, trained by OSHA, carry out mold remediation for free, but regulations city prevent them from remediating NYCHA buildings. “We’ve had so many new developments of asthma from the mold. We expect the number of digestive and respiratory issues to grow.”
“You can’t get rid of medical services,” she said. “People need more medical attention than they’re getting. They expect it to be unaffordable, and now they expect it to be unreachable.”
Bidders have until March 19 at 3 p.m. to submit their best proposals.