Long Island College Hospital appears fated to disappear in real estate deal
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Moving one step closer to a real estate deal which would close a historic hospital in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, the State University of New York (SUNY) announced late on Sunday an "agreement in principle" with Fortis Property Group for the purchase of Long Island College Hospital's (LICH) 20-building complex.
Fortis is partnering with L + M Development Partners and Full Spectrum NY to build market rate housing. In their proposal, Fortis said it would add a "significant component" of affordable housing "provided the necessary density and programming is made available by the City and State."
Fortis, which will not maintain a hospital at the site, was the developer originally chosen by SUNY before a legal battle forced it to reissue its Request for Proposals (RFP). With input from the community, patients, officials and hospital staff, the reissued RFP contained language designed to favor the sale of the LICH property to a hospital operator. Despite this language, six of the 18 evaluators ranking the bids gave more points to non-hospital proposals, putting Fortis in third place.
SUNY rejected the bids of first-place Brooklyn Health Partners (BHP), and second-place Peebles Corporation, and moved on to negotiate with Fortis.
LICH supporters challenged the six evaluations, but Justice Johnny Lee Baynes rejected the challenge on Friday, allowing SUNY to move forward with the Fortis deal.
SUNY spokesperson David Doyle said in a statement, “Through the extraordinary efforts of many, including elected officials, SUNY leadership, Fortis, NYU-Langone Medical Center, Lutheran Health Services, and the court, particularly Judge Johnny Lee Baynes, the objectives set out in the stipulation and order and RFP have been met in principle through an agreement that guarantees continuity of emergency services and the delivery of diverse and world-class health care in Brooklyn."
A spokesperson from Fortis said, "We are proud to serve the residents of Brooklyn and look forward to ensuring continuity of care while transforming the former LICH complex into a first class medical facility as well as a site that serves the needs of the community."
Condos and a 'free-standing ER'
Besides condos, Fortis will lease 80,000 square feet in one building to NYU-Langone and Lutheran Medical Center for an urgent care center, "free-standing ER" and medical offices, and set aside another 10,000 square feet for possible future medical use. According to New York law, a "free-standing ER" can accept only what is called "basic" ambulance service. Critical care and serious emergencies will require transport to a hospital.
Fortis' proposal suggests patients travel to Lutheran Medical Center or "other Brooklyn hospitals," stating that Lutheran is "only 10 minutes away." (At 6:13 p.m. on Monday, Google Maps reported travel time from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Lutheran by motor vehicle would take a minimum of 30 minutes.)
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has said he was working "behind the scenes" to preserve health care at LICH. While de Blasio was a strong proponent of the hospital while running for the Mayor's office, many LICH supporters have expressed disappointment that he didn't push harder for a hospital after he was elected. The amount of health care being offered by NYU is not much more than the care offered at other urgent care centers popping up in Brooklyn, and the square footage is a pittance compared to the complex's current one million square feet.
SUNY said in a statement that there would be "a seamless transition between SUNY and NYU Langone Medical Center to ensure continuous emergency medical services at LICH."
SUNY shut down LICH last month except for a small walk-in ER. Since then, ERs across Brooklyn have been overcrowded, and patients have been turned away from the two closest hospitals, New York Methodist and Brooklyn Hospital Center (BHC). Healthcare workers have complained of increasingly stressful working conditions, and patients have described overnight waits on stretchers in hallways.
According to the state Department of Health, BHC's emergency department usage increased by 1,841 patients during the first four months of this year. Methodist told the Brooklyn Eagle that their ER saw an increase of 1,330 during the same time period.
Local resident Sharon Gordon told the Brooklyn Eagle last week, "My friend took her three-year-old with respiratory problems to Methodist. They wouldn't see her. She had to take her back on the ambulance and go to Cornell." She added, "This is the kind of thing that's happening in the neighborhood."
While the litigant groups that have been fighting to save LICH did not wish to comment officially on Sunday while they considered their options, individuals gave their personal opinions.
Gadsden feels that local officials "tried, but they could have put more pressure on Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. LICH did not need to close; Mayor de Blasio could have run LICH under the HHC license."
On Monday, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and Councilmembers Brad Lander, Steve Levin, and Carlos Menchaca said in a statement, "We are distressed that SUNY has yet again ignored the needs of the community. At every step we have called for the best possible healthcare services at the LICH site, and at every step SUNY has refused to heed our calls, costing the state tens of millions and denying Brooklyn the vital healthcare it needs. While this agreement includes some healthcare services, it falls far short of a full-service hospital. And it does not resume immediate ambulance service, nor require an independent community needs assessment." (Full statement below.)
Susan Raboy, speaking not for Patients for LICH but as an individual, said the announcement angered her. "How dare they say they are ensuring continuous medical services at LICH when they hardly have any medical services at LICH? What good are all these ER and urgent care services when there's no hospital to back them up? Patients will die."
UPDATE: See below for full statement from Patients for LICH.
DOH fast-tracks NYU
SUNY's announcement late Sunday did not surprise many who have watched SUNY's attempts to sell LICH for more than a year. The state DOH, moving in lockstep with SUNY throughout these proceedings for more than a year, fast-tracked NYU-foLangone Medical Center's Certificate of Need (CON) application, allowing NYU to take over the operation of the emergency department under its own license.
SUNY said that applications for an ambulatory surgery center and a Federally Qualified Health Center have also been submitted. These are expected to sail through the process as well.
According to the release, SUNY has not yet received a $24 million deposit from Fortis. While negotiating with BHP, the first-ranked bidder, the overnight provision of the non-refundable deposit became a major point of contention.
Fortis is paying $240 million, plus additional funds to cover costs incurred by SUNY while it runs a much-reduced ER during the transition period. Fortis is also paying $5 million for a Community Foundation "to address the ongoing healthcare needs of the community."
An end to litigation?
The agreement in principle is subject to a final contract between the parties and approval by the SUNY Board of Trustees. In his ruling on Friday, Justice Baynes said the agreement is also subject to the approval of the New York State Comptroller’s Office. “Thereafter, the appropriate administrative remedies exist, if any are appropriate,” Justice Baynes said.
Doyle said that the "longstanding litigation and losses at LICH appear to be nearly over."
Jim Walden, (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher), representing community groups and doctors in the long legal battle to keep the hospital open, did not comment by press time on future litigation.
Doyle said that Fortis and NYU will establish a LICH Transformation Advisory Panel, a Clinical Advisory Panel and a Community Ombudsperson. Fortis must continue to rent the 90,000 square feet to a healthcare provider for 20 years.
Nurse Gadsden said, "As a nurse who worked at LICH for 34 years, it is sad to see the end of 156 years old historical, teaching institution. It really did not need to come to this, but dollar signs and condos seem to have more importance than human lives."
She added, "I really feel for this community right now, they deserve so much more."
Patients for LICH Statement on the Fortis Announcement :
We represent patients of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and their families and friends. We have stood at dozens of rallies and protests over the past sixteen months and have joined others in collecting over 56,000 signatures of individuals committed to saving our hospital. Our community organizations have litigated alongside hospital unions and the New York City Public Advocate, and our elected officials have stood with us over many months of struggle to keep our full-service hospital.
Judge Baynes' June 13 decision rejecting our communities' challenge to the LICH RFP scoring was disappointing and also puzzling. The decision cited absence of evidence, but community groups had in fact offered in evidence a key SUNY admission, and the court had refused to hear the testimony of a member of the RFP technical evaluation committee. Judge Baynes also expressed his reluctance to interfere in a settlement over which he had explicitly retained jurisdiction -- a settlement whose essential ingredient, the preservation of a full-service hospital at LICH, was subverted by SUNY's administration of the RFP process. This decision strengthens our resolve to fight for the survival of LICH, the hospital that has served the healthcare needs of our communities for 156 years.
We call on Mayor de Blasio and the Health and Hospitals Corporation to support our efforts to ensure the return of a full-service hospital to LICH and to help facilitate the New York State licensing process for such a hospital.
We welcome a health needs assessment to confirm to others what we already know -- that it is obvious from the demographics of the area the community needs what it once had: a fully functioning full-service hospital. Before SUNY withdrew services, LICH had 90% in-patient occupancy and over 50,000 annual emergency room visits, serving a total of one quarter of a million people each year.
The catchphrase “continuity of care” should not be used to obscure our need for a full-service hospital. A phrase that used to mean that the vital life-saving hospital services at LICH would continue during a transition period to a new operator now stands for very little, given the amount of care currently offered at LICH by a reduced ER with no ambulance service. Those of us needing serious medical care, hospital admission, surgery and the like, must be sent elsewhere, losing critical time in an emergency. It is a dangerous and frightening situation.
A freestanding ER that can accept only BLS (basic life support) ambulances – as opposed to ALS (advanced life support) ambulances -- will not substantially change this dangerous situation for residents in the LICH catchment area and does not substitute for a full-service hospital. Ambulance responders for serious cases will have to travel longer distances – sometimes at a risk to life – as documented in Mayor de Blasio's July 2013 report, “Distance Matters: What Losing Two Hospitals Would Mean for Brooklyn.” Patients who go to such an ER requiring serious medical care will need to be transferred elsewhere, again losing critical time.
Now, just two days after Judge Baynes' decision, SUNY has announced an agreement in principle to sell LICH to the Fortis Property Group, which proposes just such a freestanding ER, rather than a hospital. According to Fortis, patients who need hospitalization, including intensive care, will be taken from LICH by ambulance to a hospital. By announcing that “the objectives set out in the stipulation and order and RFP have been met in principle,” SUNY acknowledges the RFP objectives -- continuity of health care operations and a full-service hospital -- and highlights the reality that it has not in fact met either of them.. We hope that the highly-regarded health care institutions associated with the Fortis proposal will give serious consideration to meeting the RFP goal and community healthcare needs by extending their medical services to include an in-patient hospital.
Brooklyn Elected Officials' Statement on Long Island College Hospital
On Monday, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and Councilmembers Brad Lander, Steve Levin, and Carlos Menchaca released the following statement regarding Long Island College Hospital (LICH):
"We are distressed that SUNY has yet again ignored the needs of the community. At every step we have called for the best possible healthcare services at the LICH site, and at every step SUNY has refused to heed our calls, costing the state tens of millions and denying Brooklyn the vital healthcare it needs. While this agreement includes some healthcare services, it falls far short of a full-service hospital. And it does not resume immediate ambulance service, nor require an independent community needs assessment.
"We will continue to stand with the community, and urge SUNY and all parties to work collaboratively to meet the needs of the neighborhood and all of Brooklyn."