By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It wasn’t the complimentary roast beef sandwiches or coffee that gave some in the audience of 60 to 70 local residents a case of agita at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is Carroll Gardens on Thursday night.
It was the proposal, delivered by Dr. Richard B. Becker, CEO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, to close Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and replace it with 1000-units of residential development and ambulatory care services.
SUNY Downstate, LICH’s current operator, is short of cash and has been trying to close the Cobble Hill hospital complex for more than a year. A ferocious legal battle led to a reissued Request for Proposals and a new round of bidding, which wraps up Wednesday.
Dr. Becker’s message -- that an urgent care center, small emergency department and satellite clinics could adequately replace the hospital – was met with some skepticism and a flurry of questions.
Many of the questions, written on index cards and passed to the front to be read by moderator Reverend Al Cockfield, COO of God’s Battalion of Prayer Ministries, were left unanswered due to tight time constraints.
Some answers weren’t specific enough for audience members. “You didn’t answer my question!” attendee Lorna Goodrich called out in frustration after one exchange.
Rev. Cockfield, a vocal supporter of SUNY Downstate who has called out Governor Andrew Cuomo for closing hospitals in Central Brooklyn, shushed attendees who spoke out of turn.
“A full service hospital is not our mission,” Dr. Becker said. “Ninety percent of patients don’t require an overnight hospital stay. This is happening across the country. As patients, it’s a good thing. Nobody wants to go the hospital if they don’t need to.”
In the proposal, put together with developer Related Companies and Blue Wolf Capital, roughly 20 of LICH’s valuable Brownstone properties would be developed as residential. All of the proposed medical services, including an urgent care center and emergency department, would be located inside the Fuller Building, at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street.
Representatives from Related Companies did not speak at Thursday’s event.
Dr. Becker said the emergency department would hold 15 to 20 bays and a small number of observational bed (with no in-patient hospital beds). This is a slight increase from a number of bays he proposed on Tuesday in Red Hook, a total of 15 bays.
Patients with serious situations or needing hospital care would be transferred to Brooklyn Hospital for treatment.
Dr. Becker said Brooklyn Hospital will partner with Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center to open a health clinic in Red Hook, and will open another clinic in a location yet to be decided. Mount Sinai Medical Center will be partnering with Brooklyn Hospital in its ambulatory care offerings.
Dr. Becker would not comment on the square footage of the proposed urgent care center or emergency department. “The square footage is less important than the number of bays,” he said. “Between LICH’s emergency department and Brooklyn Hospital Center’s emergency department, there’s adequate room,” he said. “So many people don’t need an emergency department.”
Dr. Becker emphasized that greater primary care services would alleviate the need for many patients to visit hospital or ER. “If diabetes, blood pressure are managed well, they wouldn’t need to come to a hospital.”
Rev. Cockfield selectively read attendees’ questions and Dr. Becker answered, but not to the satisfaction of some in the crowd, who began to whisper restlessly as the Q and A went on.
“If we call 911, which ER will we be taken to?” was one question.
“EMTs know very well where to take patients,” Dr. Becker said. “If someone is having a massive heart attack, they’ll take them to the closest ER. If they are suffering trauma, they’ll take them to a trauma center.”
“Where will they take me if I have a stroke?” was a follow-up called out from the audience.
“The closest ER, as long as the ER is set up to manage stroke,” he said, adding, “You may be transferred to a place like Mount Sinai.”
One person wrote that during rush hour it can take 35 minutes to get to Brooklyn Hospital Center from Brooklyn Bridge Park, vs. 7 minutes to LICH. “This delay could be dangerous,” they wrote.
“Any hospital can be challenging to get to in New York City,” Dr. Becker said. “I got stuck for 20 minutes behind a garbage truck on my way here today. EMTs know the fastest route to get to emergency care.”
When asked about why Related Companies had asked for the neighborhood to be rezoned, Dr. Becker answered, “Many of the proposals have a residential redevelopment piece. Related Companies is well known and has a tremendous record of working with communities.”
Another attendee asked what would happen to area residents in case of a catastrophic event like September 11.
“Every hospital and every organization needs a disaster plan, and now we would need more of a network plan taking into account clinics and urgent care facilities. We would incorporate the new facilities into a disaster plan,” Dr. Becker said.
The floodgates opened when Dr. Becker began a sentence with, “Now that LICH is not here ---”
“LICH is here, it’s still open!” audience members shouted.
Some in the crowd muttered that Dr. Becker’s assistant was “flipping through the cards” looking for easy questions.
A brief bru-ha-ha broke out when the assistant wrote a reminder to Dr. Becker on the back of an index card submitted by Ms. Georgia Parks. When Rev. Cockfield inadvertently read the reminder out loud -- telling Dr. Becker to make sure the audience knew it was SUNY, not Brooklyn Hospital, that was seeking to close LICH -- Ms. Parks exclaimed, “That was not my question!”
She stood up to take her card back while Rev. Cockfield tried to get her to sit down. “I want my card!” she said, finally getting it back. “And look, they crossed out part of my question,” she added, holding it up to show the crossed out lines.
Afterwards, several attendees told the Brooklyn Eagle that they felt that their questions had not been adequately answered.
“I came with an open mind to hear the merits of Brooklyn Hospital,” said Lorna Goodrich. “He answered in generalities.”
“They have a strong economic disincentive to build a hospital here,” said Matibel Figueredo, a Cobble Hill resident. “They want a feeder ER for Brooklyn Hospital, a small ER where they can’t treat anybody.”
“It sounds like a real estate deal,” said Deborah Bingham, a resident of Brooklyn Heights. “They want to cut services. We need a full service hospital with inpatient beds. They’re not asking us what we need, they’re telling us what they’ll do.”
Josephine Musarella said she almost died in July when EMTs had to drive her to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope because of SUNY Downstate’s ban on ambulance runs to LICH. “It took 20 minutes from Court and DeGraw to Methodist,” she said.
Michael Simon said that signs reading, “We support Brooklyn Hospital Center’s bid for LICH” have been popping up in shops in Carroll Gardens. “When I asked a store owner why he was for Brooklyn Hospital, he told me he didn’t even know the sign was there,” he said.
One commenter said, however, that they appreciated the fact that Brooklyn Hospital came out to Carroll Gardens to make a presentation, whether they agreed with it or not. “No one else has,” she said.
A spokesperson for Brooklyn Hospital Center told the Eagle after the event that the incident with the index card was inadvertent. “It was an in innocent mistake in an otherwise productive and unmatched dialogue that we are proud to have with the LICH community,” he said.
The Related Companies/ Brooklyn Hospital Center proposal is just one of six potential bids on the table.
On Friday community organizations who participated in the year-long legal battle to keep LICH open confirmed that they met over the week with three groups who have presented plans to operate a full-service hospital there.
These organizations have not yet been publicly identified, but a community forum is in the planning stages.