NAACP, Black caucus, churches wants SUNY’s hospital sale investigated
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Minority leaders on Friday called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to “do the right thing” and halt the sale of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to developer Fortis Property Group. The groups also want SUNY’s sales process to be investigated by Brooklyn District Attorney Thompson, Attorney General Schneiderman and the state Senate.
SUNY chose Fortis over two higher-ranked minority developers after a convoluted and much-litigated process. Fortis is expected to sign a contract to buy the Cobble Hill hospital on Monday.
On Friday, leaders of the NAACP, along with the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus and Mobilizing Preachers and Communities (MPAC), a coalition of ministers statewide, joined with Brooklyn community groups on the steps of City Hall.
Besides halting the sale, they also want the Governor to remove SUNY board chairman H. Carl McCall for his “failed oversight” of LICH. SUNY took over the hospital in May 2011 with the promise of keeping it in operation, but moved to close less than two years later.
“They cannot pull the wool over our eyes, we are intelligent people,” said Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP NYS Conference. “It’s time for us to stand with the community groups to say we want justice done. We are calling on the governor and attorney general to halt this sale.”
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, President of MPAC, said that SUNY’s RFP process did not add up. “Fortis did not rank first in the bidding process. Fortis does not represent the concerns and the needs of the community, and we believe that when SUNY officials terminated negotiations with [first- and second-ranked] Brooklyn Health Partners and the Peebles Corporation 18 days into a 30 day process, that this was done to favor Fortis.”
Noting that Governor Cuomo has said he would like to see more participation by minorities and woman (MWBE), Green said, “This was an opportunity to demonstrate they’re really serious about minority participation and inclusion in development projects not only in Brooklyn but around the state.”
Speakers also expressed disappointment over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s disappearance from the LICH cause after his election. Rev. Green noted that de Blasio “campaigned for keeping LICH open as a full-service hospital.
“Please Mr. Mayor, come out of hiding,” he said. “You made us believe that you would end this tale of two cities, but your actions say you are perpetuating the tale of two cities. We need our elected officials to step up to the plate and do the right thing.”
Brooklyn Assemblyman Karim Camara, Chair of the NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, said the whole sales process was troubling. “Before [SUNY] got to the closing date, they abruptly told the Peebles Corporation over Memorial Day weekend that all bets were off and they’re moving to Fortis. At the very least, that’s a tremendous lack of transparency.”
Camara said Peebles had agreed to hire 1,500 local minority workers on the job site, out of a total of 3,000, and was willing “to put in $7.5 million dollars of their own money to help individuals [laid off at LICH] find jobs.
“They were also willing to take a risk when it came to environmental concerns. They told SUNY, if we move forward, and we find out we can’t build, you can keep your $25 million, we won’t even ask for it back. This is not just about picking a black developer. This is about a developer who stood on the merits and went above and beyond the guidelines.”
SUNY: Fortis sets goal of 19 percent minority
SUNY spokesperson David Doyle said in a statement on Friday that “the very existence” of University Hospital of Brooklyn and SUNY Downstate “is in jeopardy if the LICH issue is not resolved under the current terms and timetable. Any further damage to UHB or Downstate would be catastrophic, not only for SUNY, but also for Brooklyn.”
He noted, “Fortis and all of their subcontractors have committed to the state required MWBE goals of 19 percent. The Fortis proposal also includes the hiring of a Minority Business Enterprise Officer to administer the MWBE plan for Fortis.”
“The fact is the previous bidders failed to provide the healthcare services the community called for or couldn't comply with the court approved RFP,” Doyle said. “To now question the motives and intent of the SUNY Board of Trustees and staff is an attempt to gloss over that simple truth and ignores indisputable facts.”
In a letter sent to the Black and Hispanic Caucus, Chairman McCall wrote, “We believe we were successful in our goals with this RFP as all proposers submitted required MWBE plans and, as you note, the top two scoring proposers were MWBE firms.” He added that the court ruled that SUNY was within its rights to move on to the next proposer “if SUNY determined it could not reasonably expect to conclude a deal.”
MPAC refuted McCall’s assertion. “It cannot be a top priority when two minority owned bidders, who submitted their MWBE plans, are disqualified without clear justifications. There were no problems presented with either the Peebles Corporation or Brooklyn Health Partners. This letter is insulting and plays on the intelligence of the community.”
Rev. Green said, “Everything that was stated in the letter is a misrepresentation of the negotiations between SUNY officials and the Peebles Corporation.”
Deal called 'racist'
Former City Councilmember Charles Barron said the deal was racist and ignored the community’s needs for a hospital.
“We need a full-service hospital, not a ‘medical facility.’ Watch the language – medical facility – what is that? This is not transparency, this is racist. It’s racist to jump over a qualified corporation . . . Peebles has the money, the capital, the quality, the insurance, the experience, the professionalism. This is a qualified corporation ready to do the job.”
He added, “This is murder when you deny medical services to a needy community where people will actually die – it’s premeditated murder.”
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, said, “Since the shutdown of LICH last month, all the local hospital ERs have been overcrowded. We know that people have died on the way to those hospitals. We know of Danny Cruise, a 40-year-old asthmatic father of three – you shouldn’t die from an asthma attack on the way to a further away hospital.”
Strabone read from a court petition filed on April 20, 2011, less than one month before SUNY acquired LICH. The document was signed by Kathryn Meyer, general counsel for LICH at the time. With a ratio of only 2.51 hospital beds per 1,000 population in Kings County, she wrote, “It is critical to patients and to the community, that LICH remain open and viable. Should LICH close, the Kings County hospital bed per 1,000 ratio would fall to 2.39. In comparison, New York State has a ratio of 3.30 hospital beds per 1,000 population.”
“The governor knows this. It’s his own people who wrote and submitted this document to the court,” Strabone said. “Were they perjuring when they said that LICH is needed?”
Charlene Nimmons the president of Wyckoff Gardens Resident Association, said, “The community groups signed a contract with Peebles Corp. That contract was signed by Judge Baynes and we can’t understand why SUNY would totally disregard that agreement. They wanted Fortis from the beginning.”
Jane McGroarty, chair of the Brooklyn Heights Association’s LICH Committee, said, “Fortis submitted a Certificate of Need application to the New York State Department of Health while SUNY was negotiating with Peebles. Why would the Department of Health entertain such an application when SUNY has the second-place bidder and was negotiating? It’s certainly fishy.”
Speakers also said that SUNY board has made concessions to Fortis that they did not make to the Peebles Corporation. Negotiations with BHP and Peebles were ended “well short of the 30-day period,” they said, while Fortis was in day 32 and would only finalize the contract 35 days after the start of negotiations. One representative told the Brooklyn Eagle that "games were played" with BHP's deposit deadline, while Fortis "still hasn't cut a check."
BHP’s proposal for LICH included a hospital at the Cobble Hill site, while developer Don Peebles agreed to conduct a community needs survey and build a hospital if necessary.
Fortis plans to develop the one million-square-foot LICH campus as co-ops. Fortis says it will not operate a hospital, but proposes to lease space to NYU-Langone and Lutheran Medical Center for ambulatory services, a “stand-alone” ER, doctors’ offices and other health-related services.