By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor de Blasio on Wednesday afternoon lobbed a bomb onto the ongoing negotiations over the ownership of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Brooklyn.
With less than a week to go until the signing deadline, the Mayor called on SUNY to drop negotiations with Brooklyn Health Partners, the California-based group that submitted the winning bid for LICH, and "open negotiations with additional bidders to preserve quality, uninterrupted health care services at Long Island College Hospital."
“Our mission is to save and protect continuous, high-level health care at Long Island College Hospital, and this is the heart of the agreement made between SUNY and the community earlier this year,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.
“To make good on this promise, those proposals that are unable to deliver health care at LICH should be bypassed, and those that can must be engaged,” he said. “I urge SUNY to open a new dialogue with additional bidders, so health care can be saved at this facility for tens of thousands of New Yorkers.”
SUNY declined to comment on the Mayor's comment.
De Blasio said his call comes on the heels of reports that the proposal from BHP will "likely not meet the requirements of a settlement" struck earlier this year among SUNY, a coalition of community advocates and activists, and elected officials, including the Mayor.
BHP was faced with an onslaught of negative articles this past week about their viability and about their alleged plans to build 50-story towers at the Cobble Hill site. The plans were supplied to reporters by one of the losing bidders, Derek Oubre, president of Trindade Value Partners -- a former BHP partner who is now considering legal action against the group.
On Monday the Mayor’s spokesperson Phil Walzak had expressed caution about the proposal. “As we learn more, there are some real concerns being raised about the bid by BHP."
BHP spokesperson Donnette Dunbar told the Brooklyn Eagle after the Mayor’s earlier comment on Monday that BHP was “surprised that the mayor has taken that position seeing he has not been a part of our negotiations with the State University of New York.”
She expressed confidence that BHP would be able to make a $25 million nonrefundable deposit on May 5, and prove that it has the financial means to complete the entire project.
Attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing the Public Advocate and community groups fighting to keep LICH open, said on Tuesday, “We are hopeful discussions between SUNY and BHP will succeed. We continue to monitor the situation, and are in discussions with our coalition partners and elected officials about options depending on the events over the next few important days."
‘Spoon-feeding’ de Blasio
Trindade’s Oubre has filed a protest with SUNY about both the bidding process and BHP. Trindade says their hospital plan, jointly developed with BHP, was essentially identical to BHP’s, yet Trindade was ranked only sixth. “Trindade and BHP worked to produce a joint proposal until March 14, 2014,” when the parties split, he wrote in his protest..
Oubre provided copies of emails suggesting BHP was aiming for skyscrapers on the property because a high percentage of affordable housing units would make them more acceptable to the Mayor, an advocate of affordable housing.
“Did you notice I said 40%?" wrote John Richard Chantengco, associate broker with HKS Capital Partners, in an email to BHP President Merrell Schexnydre. "We are spoon-feeding our deal to de Blasio."
Oubre says BHP lowballed their estimate in their proposal, leaving out “soft costs” like beds, gas, and hospital equipment. He also charged that both BHP and Prime Healthcare “omitted critical non-financial data."
BHP’s Dunbar told the Brooklyn Eagle last Friday, “Various reports that Brooklyn Health Partners (BHP) has made land use decisions concerning the Long Island College Hospital campus are absolutely false."
Beyond that, Dunbar said, they are not allowed to say, since they are still operating under the RFP’s gag order “until the contract between the SUNY and BHP is executed and approved.”
Skepticism about the voting process
Susan Raboy, spokesperson for the advocacy group Patients for LICH, expressed misgivings about the execution of the RFP voting process. According to the legal settlement, panelists were supposed to give more points to proposals offering to maintain LICH as a full service hospital.
“My concern is the voting process and whether or not the same instructions were given to both panels,” Raboy said. “If the two panels received different instructions with different areas of emphasis the entire process is flawed.”
SUNY evaluators, on average, gave more points to non-hospital proposals than they did to hospital proposals. In one glaring case, SUNY “evaluator #9” awarded 0 points to all full-service hospital bids, and 70 points, the maximum allowed, to developer Fortis Property Group.
A non-hospital developer, investor Don Peebles, came in second overall, followed by Fortis Property Group, another non-hospital developer. If negotiations with BHP fall through, SUNY could begin negotiating with Peebles.
Other hospital proposals include Prime Healthcare Foundation, which came in fourth; Trindade, sixth; and Chinese Community Accountable Care Organization, ranked eighth.
Some LICH supporters say the fix was in.
"SUNY's winner was a party whom no one had ever heard of and who had no chance," said Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association. "The next two finishers are real estate developers. Your readers may be asking, How'd that happen? We're asking that question, too."
Dr. Jon Berall, who acted as a court-appointed ombudsman at LICH during the litigation, asked, “How could Fortis and Peebles rank higher than CCACO [Chinese Community Accountable Care Organization] and the other hospital bids? And significantly higher? If honestly done?”
“Recent reports concerning BHP -- including continuity of healthcare services, development plans, and long-term viability -- and the scoring process are troubling," Senator Squadron said on Wednesday.
A source close to the negotiations told the Eagle that the Mayor had met with BHP earlier this week but gave no indication that he would call for the negotiations to be dropped. “The Mayor can’t just go and change the rules -- they do have till Monday,” the source said. “The Mayor is not part of the negotiations at all.”
LICH was nearly shuttered last summer, until a coalition of community activists, unions and elected leaders, including then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, launched a series of protests and legal actions to prevent a closure. De Blasio played a major role in keeping LICH open, even getting arrested in a protest.
Mayor de Blasio said that closing LICH would deny care to approximately 75,000 people in Brooklyn who rely on the hospital as their primary neighborhood source of health care.