Long Island College Hospital deal faces litigation
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The uproar surrounding SUNY’s sale of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn became more pronounced this week with SUNY’s rejection of the first-place bidder, Brooklyn Health Partners Development Corp (BHP) on Monday.
BHP plans to sue SUNY, and local community groups and doctors said they were “carefully weighing” their legal options.
SUNY said in a statement on Monday that after “good faith negotiations” it was “unable to execute a satisfactory contract agreement” with BHP. SUNY was expected to meet second-place bidder Peebles Development Corp. on Tuesday afternoon.
BHP said they had delivered the required $25 million and documents proving financial and health care commitments to state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes on Monday, hours before the deadline. The group’s attorneys said they had filed for a temporary restraining order and injunction to stop SUNY from moving on with the sale, and expect to be in court on Thursday at 10 a.m.
While BHP’s bid proposed siting a full-service hospital at LICH and developing the non-core properties as residential, developer Don Peebles is proposing a much smaller “free-standing emergency department” and ambulatory care services, with no hospital.
For more than a year, community groups, officials and LICH staff have been unrelenting in their fight to keep LICH open as a hospital. On Monday, residents said they were fearful that LICH, serving Brooklyn’s fastest growing neighborhoods, would soon be served up to developers.
Attorney Jim Walden, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, told the Brooklyn Eagle late Monday, "This situation is obviously serious for the community, and particularly for medically vulnerable patients who depend on LICH for life-saving services. The community-group petitioners and Concerned Physicians of LICH, who we now represent, are carefully weighing options, as they should given the grave circumstances."
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, one of six community groups fighting LICH’s closure, said on Tuesday, “As SUNY turns drama into farce at LICH, we must keep one priority before us at all times: we are all united in the fight to keep a hospital at LICH. Community groups, unions, elected officials: no one has wavered. We are fighting for our lives and keeping our eyes on the prize.”
Public Advocate Letitia Jamessaid in a statement, "Throughout this chaotic process, I have consistently fought for uninterrupted and comprehensive healthcare services for Brooklyn residents. I won't stop now. Regardless of who ultimately operates LICH, what truly matters is that New Yorkers get the care they deserve and that we never put profits over patients."
Both the state and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came out against BHP last week. On Friday in state Supreme Court, SUNY claimed that BHP was unable to fulfill the promises made in their proposal, including providing interim health services after SUNY shuts the hospital on May 22.
SUNY also said that the group couldn’t provide documentation proving they have access to $600 million worth of financing -- documentation BHP says they provided on Monday.
The New York State Nurses Association, in a rare departure, agreed with SUNY, citing a letter BHP had written just days before the deadline, giving a fuzzy description of their proposed interim health care services, if any.
By Monday’s deadline, BHP submitted signed letters of commitment from the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, Garner Health and QHR Intensive Resources (Quorum) to operate interim and bridge services at LICH.
SUNY’s Academic Medical Centers & Hospitals Committee is meeting Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. The meeting at Stony Brook, which does not list LICH as an agenda item, will be broadcast live on SUNY’s website.
BHP spokesperson Donnette Dunbar confirmed that the group was headed back to court after papers were refiled on Tuesday.
Another legal action was lodged against SUNY last week by former LICH ombudsman Dr. Jon Berall. Dr. Berall told the Eagle he had started the lawsuit because “We need a new RFP. This is clearly bogus, manipulated, disenfranchises the community and is disrespectful to the court.”
Contrary to the intent of the much-litigated and reissued RFP, “The second place finisher is a Condo King, as is the third place finisher: The hospital will be destroyed and super-lux condos built,” he said.
Peebles said in a statement on Monday, “The Peebles Corporation and the Witkoff Group, along with our respected team of healthcare providers – Maimonides Medical Center, North Shore-LIJ Health System, ProHEALTH, and the Institute for Family Health – look forward to engaging with SUNY to redevelop the LICH campus and assure uninterrupted access to a broad array of healthcare services focused on meeting the needs of the surrounding communities.”
While the state has claimed that Brooklyn has too many hospital beds and no longer needs a full-service hospital at the site of LICH, Brooklyn has only two hospital beds for every 1,000 residents, while Manhattan has six beds for every 1,000 residents.
A report released last July by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio found that closing LICH would have a “devastating” impact on western Brooklyn communities in terms of travel time to the closest hospital. The report also showed that hospitals nearest to LICH, including New York Methodist Hospital and Brooklyn Hospital Center, were already close to capacity.