By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn officials on Thursday asked state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to conduct investigations of SUNY’s sale of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to Fortis.
Officials said SUNY’s “flawed selection process” has resulted in “the disregard of the community’s essential healthcare needs.”
The letters were signed by state Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember Joan Millman, Councilmembers Brad Lander, Stephen Levin and Carlos Menchaca.
Community members also called for separate investigations. On Wednesday night, a coalition of stakeholders working to save LICH met in Brooklyn to hash out the next steps in the fight for the hospital complex.
SUNY rejected the first- and second-ranked bidders – Brooklyn Health Partners and Peebles Corporation – before moving on to Fortis, which had won an earlier RFP round that was overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Officials had pushed for a revised RFP that was supposed to give more points to hospital providers, but SUNY chose to sell the now-shuttered hospital complex to Fortis, despite the lack of a hospital in its proposal.
The pols said in their letters that “considerable concern has been raised about the impartiality of the RFP’s scoring and the transparency of the subsequent negotiations between SUNY and RFP respondents.”
“The RFP’s current finalist was not the first-ranked bidder; negotiations with this respondent occurred only because SUNY exited discussions with the first- and second-ranked bidders,” they added.
The officials also asked that the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau “conduct a full review of the use and disposition of the Othmer Fund . . .before any court approval on the sale is granted.” (Links to the full text of the letters are below this article.)
The Othmer Fund was a multi-million dollar endowment left to LICH by Donald and Mildred Othmer “to be held either in perpetuity and the income to be used for general purposes, or in part or in whole for the construction or acquisition of a building to be called the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer building.”
Stakeholders meet, push for investigation
Despite a night crowded with other political and civic events, representatives from community, religious, physicians and patients groups, elected officials and the NAACP met at the Wyckoff Gardens houses Wednesday to work out their next steps.
Leaders called for an investigation into what they described as the “improprieties” involved in SUNY’s sale of LICH to Fortis. Many also expressed intense disappointment with Mayor de Blasio’s lack of follow-through on his promise to save LICH – a promise made while running for the mayor’s office, but seemingly disregarded after his election.
They also raised the alarm about the increased waiting time at other Brooklyn ERs, and the high number of patients being redirected to second hospitals after waiting unsuccessfully for a slot to open up a first one.
Most of the discussion was off the record. But Gary Johnson, NAACP NY State Chair for Economic Development, commented that the NAACP was becoming involved because the Brooklyn community “is losing a vital cog in its healthcare network,” and because of the way SUNY treated the groups who placed first and second in the RFP bidding process. Brooklyn Health Partners and Peebles are both minority-owned.
The conditions SUNY placed on the two highest ranked bidders were “strikingly different” than the conditions SUNY placed on the third-placed bidder, Fortis, they said.
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, President of Mobilizing Preachers and Communities (MPAC), a coalition of hundreds churches, told the Brooklyn Eagle that pastors around the state were mobilizing.
“We’ve been joined by the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Buffalo, and Baptist conferences from Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany, all concerned with the behavior of the SUNY board,” he said.
MPAC has sent a request to the Governor and letters to the state Attorney General and the state Comptroller, “asking them to hold off on the signing [approving the sale of LICH to Fortis] until a thorough investigation is conducted. We feel there has been some impropriety and that SUNY intended from the very beginning to give the deal to Fortis,” he said.
Rev. Green added that the issues went beyond Brooklyn. “If they can do it here in Brooklyn, it can happen anywhere in the state.”
LICH litigants also call for investigations
Concerned Physicians of LICH and the six community groups involved in litigation with SUNY for more than a year — Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants’ Association, and Wyckoff Gardens Association, Inc. -- also called for state and city investigations of SUNY.
In a statement, the groups said, "Because we have reason to believe that the State University of New York (SUNY) has acted illegally, and continues to do so, we call on the Department of Justice, the King’s County District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General, and the New York State Inspector General to investigate SUNY’s actions."
The litigant groups said, "From the beginning, there were indications that SUNY favored the Fortis Group, the third-ranking proposer, over the other bidders. The RFP process has raised real questions – that need to be answered – about whether Peebles, one of the largest and most prestigious minority-owned real-estate development companies in the country, was shut out merely because of Fortis’ political influence and connections."
Their full statement is below.
Unified Community Statement Regarding Long Island College Hospital
Concerned Physicians of LICH and the six community groups involved in litigation with the State University of New York regarding the fate of Long Island College Hospital — Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants’ Association, and Wyckoff Gardens Association, Inc.--- announce their decision to refrain from further litigation at this time. Because we have reason to believe that the State University of New York (“SUNY”) has acted illegally, and continues to do so, we call on the Department of Justice, the King’s County District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General, and the New York State Inspector General to investigate SUNY’s actions.
For almost a year, we have been fighting in Kings County Supreme Court to protect and preserve LICH, a community teaching hospital, which has served the health needs of this growing community for 150 years – with more than 50,000 emergency room admissions a year. Our litigation kept vital health care open for a year, and preserved jobs during that time. We believe our lawsuit had merit. SUNY and the Department of Health hired four private law firms to defend their decision to close the hospital, wasting millions of dollars in tax payers’ money that could have sustained health care at LICH for months. Our lawyers, all working pro bono, uncovered evidence which they believe indicates SUNY acted illegally. We took this fight to SUNY’s Board of Trustees who permitted SUNY to engage in this conduct.
We have always kept our focus on a health care solution. This is why we decided, on May 19 to resolve our differences with the Peebles Corporation, the second-highest bidder, because Peebles promised to conduct a meaningful medical-needs assessment to determine whether the LICH-catchment area needed a hospital and, if so, to restore one under reasonable feasibility conditions. SUNY, after encouraging our settlement with Peebles, inexplicably reversed course and discontinued negotiations with Peebles. We stand by that settlement and we support Peebles in their continuing quest to take over health-care operations at LICH. Peebles has filed a protest with DOH, and we hope Peebles succeeds in reversing that decision.
We want to be clear: From the beginning, there were indications that SUNY favored the Fortis Group, the third-ranking proposer, over the other bidders. The RFP process has raised real questions – that need to be answered – about whether Peebles, one of the largest and most prestigious minority-owned real-estate development companies in the country, was shut out merely because of Fortis’ political influence and connections. We say this, mindful of the report issued by the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption on December 2, 2013, detailing its searing findings on the corruption, pay-to-play culture, and conflicts of interests in our state government. Accordingly, with local emergency rooms now seriously overcrowded and refusing patients, we call upon the Department of Justice, the King’s County District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General, and the New York State Inspector General to investigate the process by which SUNY awarded a contract to Fortis and deprived the burgeoning downtown and northwest Brooklyn community of critical medical services.