State University of New York’s (SUNY) search for an entity to take over Long Island College Hospital (LICH) may be designed to fail, warned LICH supporters Thursday night at the Cobble Hill Association’s community forum to discuss the future of the 150-year-old hospital.
The nearly bankrupt (SUNY) issued a public Request for Information (RFI) on Wednesday to signal its intent to find another operators to take over LICH.
But the RFI has “more holes than Swiss cheese,” said Jerry Armer, the 76 Precinct Community Council President and long-time community activist. “And the holes are designed for a developer to use this land as something else.”
The RFI calls for an operator who could provide health care services either "on the [LICH] campus or in the community around" the hospital, leaving open the possibility that some or all of the valuable Brownstone Brooklyn real estate could be sold.
The RFI also demands that interested parties submit, by May 22, a complex proposal providing details about clinical service areas, governance and ownership models, utilization projections, legal structures, regulatory timelines and approvals, and financial plans including capital needs and sources of funding. SUNY will answer questions from interested parties only until May 15.
SUNY Downstate needs these projections in order to put together its own Sustainability Plan by June 1. However, no contract will be awarded based on responses to the RFI, SUNY says.
“At the end of January when news first leaked out that they wanted to close LICH it seemed like a pipe dream that we would get this far,” said Dr. Toomas Sorra, president of Concerned Physicians for LICH. “We won two lawsuits, but the fight is not over and our lawyers are still out there because there are issues around this RFI business where SUNY Downstate thought that by withdrawing the closure plan they would get us, and our attorneys, to shut up. That’s not going to happen.”
Jane McGroarty, the immediate past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, called for SUNY to withdraw the RFI. Jeff Strabone from the Cobble Hill Association warned that the RFI would allow services at LICH to be severely restricted -- or that it could just be a backdoor plan to bring in a for-profit hospital, something previously not allowed in New York State.
SUNY's plan to close LICH altogether was scuttled last month after months of protests, political and legal activism and media coverage. SUNY Downstate Medical Center acquired LICH two years ago from Continuum Health Partners.
LICH supporters and local representatives fear that SUNY is once again trying to keep them out of the loop. After a meeting called earlier on Thursday with SUNY officials, Assemblywoman Joan Millman said representatives were surprised when SUNY refused to discuss LICH with them.
“Today we had a meeting with SUNY that was with Carl McCall, who is the head of SUNY's board of trustees, Nancy Zimmer, and Dr. John Williams, who has now taken over SUNY Downstate,” Millman told the Cobble Hill Association Thursday night. “Basically what we were told was that because of the restraining order we could not discuss LICH. I came there all prepared to talk about our concerns with LICH.”
On Friday, Assemblywoman Joan Millman told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The suspicion is that the RFI is a way for SUNY to say, ‘We tried to entice someone to take over LICH, but got no response.’
“I don’t know how anyone could respond in such a short window of time, with no financial information,” she said. “You couldn’t do all that.”
Millman also pointed out that the RFI read more like a real estate prospectus than a hospital offering. “They not only list the buildings but the square feet. It’s real estate talk. Even when they talk about the core properties, they don’t say how many operating rooms there are, just square feet.”
On Thursday, representatives from the Concerned Physicians for LICH, the New York State Nurses Association, SEIU/Local 1199, and other community groups demanded to be included in the LICH process.
“One, we want a full service hospital,” Dr. Sorra told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Two, we and the other stakeholders want a seat at the table when plans are being discussed.”
“The most important thing is community involvement,” said Matthew Bethel, policy director for state senator Daniel Squadron. “We put together a letter with all of the elected officials here, and my boss, which calls for a group that involves federal, state, and city elected officials, representatives from SUNY, from LICH itself, from community boards, and from community organizations to have all of those voices at the table to discuss what will happen next.”
Some elected officials did warn that some sacrifices might have to be made -- all the more reason the community needs to be involved, they said.
“Part of what may have to happen is a somewhat smaller footprint to the hospital. That's partly from a healthcare economics point of view,” said Councilman Brad Lander. “I think we have to find out, in the right scenario, how we can have a positive version of that going forward.
The New York State Nurses Association and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East announced a press conference that will address their demand that community members and other stakeholders have a voice in the LICH sustainability plan. The press conference will take place Monday, May 6, at 10 a.m. at LICH, 336 Hicks Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.