By Bob Scott
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilman Brad Lander clashed Thursday with SUNY Chairman Carl McCall, questioning whether SUNY's acquisition of Long Island College Hospital was a transaction driven by real estate rather than medical considerations.
Then state Sen. Eric Adams, a leading candidate to succeed Marty Markowitz as borough president, raised the stakes, suggesting there be a probe of possible "criminal action" in the removal from LICH coffers of millions of dollars bequeathed to the hospital by a local benefactor.
Adams and Lander spoke at a public hearing of the SUNY board in Midtown Manhattan. After the hearing, the board was expected to act on a recommendation that it close LICH.
When SUNY Downstate took over an ailing LICH from Continuum Health Partners, it was aware of LICH's ongoing financial problems, Lander said. "This raises serious questions about the acquisition itself."
"You knew it was in trouble. You have not made good faith efforts to implement an improvement plan to turn it around in any way.
"It begs the question: Was there a good faith effort to integrate LICH into the [larger medical] system, or was there some attention being paid to several hundred million dollars — possibly 500 million dollars — in real estate."
Lander was interrupted by McCall who said, "Since you asked the question, let me answer. The answer is no. There is no plan with respect to the real estate."
Lander fired back: "Will you commit to us that you will not sell off the real estate?"
McCall declined, stating that disposition of LICH's real estate was not on the board's agenda.
Earlier, state Senator Daniel Squadron said that to sell the Cobble Hill medical center to the "highest bidder for real estate feels like and is in fact looting of the state treasury."
Squadron and other speakers focused on allegations by SUNY leaders that LICH's utilization was under 50 percent. LICH supporters maintain that the hospital no longer actually has 500 in-patient beds — a number that results in an unacceptably low occupancy rate — but rather 250 beds.
"Making it impossible for LICH to be a 500 bed hospital and then shutting it down because it isn't one, is Orwellian," Squadron said.
"LICH is a hospital that is desperately needed and well utilized in Brooklyn," although not as well utilized as it could be because it hasn't gotten adequate support because of "longtime disinvestment in LICH and attempts to sell LICH off for parts," he said.
To say that LICH is operating at less than 50 percent of capacity "is totally misleading and I take umbrage at that," Councilman Steven Levin said. "You owe it to the community to be honest."
Levin warned that closing LICH would cost lives when local patients are forced to travel to more distant emergency rooms.
"The extra minutes it takes to get to Brooklyn Hospital [in Fort Greene] can be the difference between life and death, and it WILL be the difference between life and death," he said. And "anyone who has been struck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge" knows that reaching a lower Manhattan hospital in an emergency is not an option.
Before the public comment period began, SUNY Downstate Medical Center President Dr. John Williams presented the rationale for his recommendation to close LICH.
"We are slated to run out of cash before the end of March," he said.
Williams was interrupted repeatedly by shouts from the audience, leading McCall to threaten to end the meeting if the crowd did not allow Williams to complete his presentation.
Williams said LICH was facing increased medical competition from Manhattan medical institutions that were "moving into Brooklyn and taking market share."
Susan Shanahan, a medical surgical nurse at LICH, asked the board why next year's medical residents were not given LICH as an option, if the board had not already determined, in advance of the public hearing, to close LICH.
Williams responded that the "reason is, in case this decision [to close LICH] is made, that we can't have those residents at risk."
Shanahan also alleged that a dialysis center at LICH was told to stop accepting patients and to vacate. Williams said he did not know that this was the case.
Closing LICH "is the wrong plan," Lander said. "It will do real harm. It will cost lives. It is a long-term abandonment of health care infrastructure built up over 150 years."
Thursday's meeting was held in the auditorium of the SUNY College of Optometry at 33 W. 42 St.