Need time to vet alternatives, LICH supporters say
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Hospital Center’s bid to buy Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and convert it to apartments and outpatient medical facilities, first reported in Crain’s New York and confirmed by SUNY, has drawn vocal opposition from LICH supporters who have been fighting for a year to keep the beleaguered hospital in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn open.
This latest proposal comes just a month after a similar bid by developer Fortis Property Group was tabled by SUNY.
The fact that other interested parties are now coming out of the woodwork after SUNY’s RFP (Request For Proposal) process has closed, LICH advocates say, shows just how flawed the process was in the first place.
SUNY’s RFP emphasized developing LICH’s real estate rather than providing hospital services, and should be reissued with full-service hospital care prioritized, advocates add.
“We have fought for the past year to keep a hospital open, and a hospital is all we will accept. Only a hospital can save a stroke victim's life, care for disaster victims, and tend to the health of a community,” said Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association (CHA).
CHA is one of six community groups that have joined unions, patients and Mayor Bill de Blasio (who was Public Advocate when he first committed to save LICH) to fight SUNY Downstate’s attempts to close LICH.
“We're not interested in semantic games: a hospital is a hospital is a hospital,” Strabone said. “Bill de Blasio called for a moratorium on hospital closures. Reducing a hospital to something else would definitely constitute a hospital closure. The Cobble Hill Association will not waver from its commitment to the vision that guided our movement: We will not let this hospital close!
SUNY's RFP process “was rigged from the start to attract real-estate groups and turn away legitimate hospital operators,” he continued. “Let there be an honest, transparent RFP process without SUNY's phony numbers, as our elected officials called for in December, and then we'll see who's interested in running LICH.”
A revised RFP would attract legitimate hospital operators, advocates say.
Attorney Jim Walden from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing LICH supporters in lawsuits against SUNY, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “Although we are interested in hearing more about Brooklyn Hospital’s proposal, we are attempting to gather additional information on others’ plans to keep hospital operations alive.
“We are very hopeful that SUNY will continue to defer action on the current proposal award until we have time to vet alternatives,” he added. “Neither SUNY nor the community should settle for any proposal – it should be the right proposal for the community.”
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), told the Eagle, “While this plan raises serious questions, the fact that it is not being considered as part of SUNY’s request-for-proposals speaks to how flawed the RFP process is. SUNY should start over in a manner that is open, transparent, fully engages the community and makes access to health services a priority.”
Sue Raboy, spokesperson for Patients for LICH, said, “We don’t care who operates LICH, but we stipulate that LICH must remain a full service hospital.”
Brooklyn Hospital Center confirmed late Wednesday the report that the hospital had put in a bid with backing from private capital and a plan to build 1,000 mixed-income apartments.
Eric Sommer, Director of Marketing for Brooklyn Hospital, confirmed as "essentially correct" the report that the hospital had drafted a plan with a private-equity firm and a developer to close LICH as a full-service hospital and “repurpose” the property as apartments and “a comprehensive care center with ambulance service and a freestanding emergency department."
Similar to the tabled bid by Fortis, the hospital would close, and outpatient services, such as radiology, laboratory and endoscopy, outpatient surgery, physical therapy and more would be provided, though not necessarily on the LICH campus.
Brooklyn Hospital, two miles away in Downtown Brooklyn, would absorb LICH's hospital services.
In December SUNY's Academic Medical Centers and Hospital Committee had put the Fortis proposal on hold. Fortis, which responded to SUNY’s RFP to take over LICH, had planned to lease much of the property now being used as LICH’s main hospital building to ProHealth, which specializes in primary care. The other 20 or so LICH buildings would be developed as condominiums.
The SUNY board, however, expressed unease with the notion of selling LICH’s Cobble Hill real estate before entering into discussions with the community and a new city administration.
SUNY spokesperson David Doyle told the Brooklyn Eagle late Wednesday, "SUNY is engaged in a procurement process and it is not concluded at this time therefore we cannot make comments on specific proposals. The RFP process and evaluation results were presented and discussed with the Academic Medical Center Committee in December. The Committee forwarded its support to proceed with the RFP process to the Executive Committee. That Committee wanted an opportunity to further consider the proposal in light of the new Mayoral administration. Therefore further action was tabled at that time; the process has not concluded."
An insider told the Eagle that SUNY may be reintroducing the Fortis proposal, tweaked to provide outpatient emergency services, at a January 13 board meeting. A SUNY spokesperson did not respond to a request for more information by press time on Thursday.
In Brooklyn Hospital's plan, LICH's valuable real estate would be packaged as rentals, as opposed to condos as in the Fortis plan. While Fortis planned a "medical mall" in the original LICH hospital building, the Brooklyn Hospital plan only specifies two clinics and two urgent care centers "would be located in LICH's geographic service area."