By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Long Island College Hospital (LICH) saga continues: A panel rating the bids for the Cobble Hill hospital has been told to ignore some unauthorized last-minute instructions by SUNY and DOH, and head back into sequestration.
After attorneys for LICH supporters raised hell on Wednesday about alleged interference by SUNY and the state Department of Health in the voting process, the parties hashed out an agreement to extend the deadline to give panelists a chance to reevaluate the proposals.
Panelists were supposed to submit their votes on Wednesday, March 26, at 3 p.m. The new deadline is Monday, March 31 at 5 p.m. Court approval of this extension is still necessary.
A court document instructs the panel to “disregard” what they were told during an unmonitored conference call made by SUNY and DOH officials on Monday, a day and a half before their votes were due.
After the panelists’ sequestration ended on Wednesday, attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher was told about the conference call.
In a letter he fired off late Wednesday to attorneys for SUNY and DOH, he alleged that the state agencies, which have been fighting for a year to close LICH, might have fed incorrect information to panel members about the odds of getting a hospital license from the state, and did not inform panel members that a temporary permit could be obtained under Public Health Law 2806-a.
In his letter he alleged that the agencies incorrectly instructed the panel members that bids proposing full-service hospitals “could not receive regulatory authority to take over operations at LICH.”
According to insiders, at least one panel member refused to turn in their vote after receiving these instructions from the state agencies.
SUNY attorney Frank Carone of Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, in a letter to Walden, emphatically denied that the state agencies attempted to influence the panel’s vote.
“SUNY did not comment or instruct any technical scorer on how or what weight to give any of the proposers in any way,” he wrote.
“To assist the evaluators in understanding the proposals, SUNY offered to provide an opportunity for a discussion with a representative from the NYSDOH on Monday, March 24, 2014 on Article 28 hospital regulations. Attendance was not required,” he wrote. (Full letters from both parties can be found here.)
According to legal documents obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, the stipulation before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes instructs members of the Technical Committee to “disregard any information conveyed to them, or information they read in the media, concerning the regulatory process for approval of a hospital operator. You should be ranking only according to the instructions provided on March 13, 2014. If this clarification would change your score for any proposal, please re-score as you see fit and submit your final scores no later than Monday, March 31 at 5 p.m.”
The stipulation also requires that “no party shall convey any substantive information to members of the Technical Committee without first consulting all other parties.”
The Technical Panel’s job is to evaluate and rate the proposals strictly in terms of their healthcare offerings. According to the state’s Request for Proposals (RFP), offerings that provide for a full-service hospital must receive more points than those which propose lesser amounts of health care, such as walk-in clinics or stand-alone ERs. Hospitals that are affiliated with medical schools receive additional points. Extra points are also awarded for proposals that can provide continuity of health care at LICH.
Four of the bids under consideration propose full-service hospitals, and one is formally affiliated with a medical school.
On Thursday, SUNY spokesperson David Doyle said in a statement, “In order to address limited but legitimate concerns by some evaluation committee members about the expedited time frame for scoring the LICH proposals, today all sides agreed to a deadline extension. SUNY believes giving evaluators additional time will help ensure a thoughtful outcome and the integrity of the process. Once the courts approves, which we fully expect, evaluations will be due on March 31st.”
At a community-sponsored panel discussion about the bids for LICH, held on Tuesday, Walden speculated that a story appearing Monday in the New York Times -- incorrectly stating the odds of obtaining a hospital license -- was a back-door attempt by the state to influence the panelists' vote. "It seemed like a plant to me, saying to the Technical Committee not to take a hospital too seriously."
The story, by Anemona Hartocollis, also omitted the possibility of obtaining a temporary permit under Public Health Law 2806-a.
Susan Raboy, spokesperson for Patients for LICH, told the Eagle, "While I'm not surprised that SUNY tried to steer the technical committee away from the full service hospital bids, I do trust the process. Once again the Coalition to save LICH has cleared another major hurdle. I'm confident that the high scorer will be one of the bids for a full service hospital. LICH Saves LIVES and LICH will be Saved!"
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, took a harsher view. “Will SUNY stop at nothing to spike the process, pervert justice, and steer the results to their favored parties? You'd think they'd learn by now to release their heavy hand from the scales. The community won again today. The technical committee will now re-do its work, this time with the explicit instruction to disregard SUNY's bogus information. When will SUNY learn its lesson?”
Justice Baynes, which has overseen the LICH legal battle for more than a year, has scheduled a proceeding for Monday at 2:45 p.m. to address the issue, but if the stipulation proves successful the proceeding may be removed from the calendar.
Updated Friday to add a sentence by Jim Walden referring to an erroneous and possibly "planted" statement in the New York Times that may have influenced members of the Technical Committee as they considered proposals for LICH.