By Mary Frost
Just one day after Governor Andrew Cuomo called the perilous state of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Brooklyn part of “a serious situation affecting a lot of people,” the Governor was reported by the Daily News as saying that northwestern Brooklyn should give up its 155-year-old hospital and let real estate developers have at it.
Singling out Brookdale, Interfaith and LICH as being close to folding, Cuomo said in his 2014 Executive Budget address on Tuesday, “We need Health and Human Services to act . . . to keep these hospitals open.” He added, “We need [the $10 billion Medicaid waiver funds] now. There is truly a crisis in Brooklyn.”
It appeared on Wednesday, however, that the Governor had a different message for LICH.
“You don’t need the hospital beds they now have,” he told the News, saying that LICH should be sold quickly to one of the two developers vying for the valuable Brownstone Brooklyn property.
Financially troubled SUNY Downstate, which acquired LICH in 2011, has been trying to shut the Cobble Hill hospital down and sell its real estate for the past year. Downstate is part of the State University of New York and its inability to manage LICH – and its own money problems — appears to be a growing thorn in the Governor’s side.
One city insider said that SUNY would love a quick sale, “but it’s not happening.” Between ongoing lawsuits, contempt charges against the SUNY board and the state Department of Health, and SUNY Downstate’s mismanagement of a once-operational LICH, SUNY is “massively irritated and they’re blaming everyone from Obama to de Blasio.”
SUNY has been accused of at least 11 violations of court orders in its rush to close LICH. On Tuesday, LICH advocates agreed to one final postponement of their much-anticipated contempt hearing as a new settlement proposal was hashed out in state Supreme Court before Justice Johnny Lee Baynes.
LICH and Interfaith Medical Center supporters – including community groups, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, unions, patients and a broad array of elected officials — have joined forces to demand a borough-wide approach to saving hospitals seen as increasingly crucial to Brooklyn’s growing population.
LICH serves a swath of Brooklyn ranging from Red Hook to Williamsburg, including Downtown Brooklyn -– all areas exploding with new residential and business development.
More than 3,330 housing units are currently under construction in Downtown Brooklyn, and almost 12,000 more units are in the works, according to a report just released by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. (http://assets.downtownbrooklyn.com/documents/DB-Programmatic-Report-2013…)
Residential towers and hotels are also sprouting up in Brooklyn Heights and in Brooklyn Bridge Park, in Gowanus and in Williamsburg.
Representatives of the Governor and DOH say they have met and will continue to meet with Brooklyn elected officials and their staff. A state insider reiterated that the Governor has been trying for the last 18 months “to get [Health and Human Services] HHS to grant the state the permission to use up to $10 billion in Medicaid saving to support and transform Brooklyn hospitals.”
While there is little disagreement that SUNY Downstate, a major teaching hospital, is a critical part of Brooklyn’s health care network, the question remains whether the financial needs of SUNY Downstate should dictate health care policy in Brooklyn.
While the state is backing a proposed health care network designed to improve the chances of a subset of Brooklyn hospitals and ensure Downstate’s survival, that plan does not address the crisis of other hospitals throughout the borough, including LICH.
Mayor De Blasio, who has introduced a more comprehensive Brooklyn Health Authority, has said that his goal “is to actually get the city and state on the same page consistently, and make sure in each case that we’re addressing local healthcare needs as these decisions are made.”
De Blasio’s spokeswoman Marti Adams commented on Thursday, “Mayor de Blasio and his team are actively involved in moving the parties to a resolution that meets the healthcare needs of this community.”
The state maintains that LICH’s hospital beds will be unnecessary once comprehensive ambulatory services are in place. That “does not signify less commitment to providing important community health services, including primary and ambulatory care,” said a source. Rather, there will be less need to maintain costly hospital beds if unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital “check-ins” are prevented.
LICH supporters say that’s not good enough. Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, attorney for six community groups and other members of the Save LICH coalition, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, “The affected communities welcome all ideas about long-term solutions for healthcare in Brooklyn, but we need action and help on LICH now. The community deserves better than what happened to LICH. The stories of personal tragedy because of the devastation of this hospital are real. We hope the Governor and every other elected official helps repair the damage and acts to make sure this cannot happen again.”
On Thursday, LICH backers tweeted their disapproval of the Governor’s apparent lack of support. “Time [for NY Governor Cuomo] to get out of the way of Brooklyn’s efforts to save LICH,” said one.
“No patients? Seriously? Have you seen the wait times in Brooklyn Hospital, or Maimonides . . . come on,” said another.
After a murky and much-criticized RFP (Request for Proposals) process, SUNY said that Fortis Property Group had submitted the top offer for LICH’s real estate.
Fortis says it would replace the hospital with condos and outpatient health services. After its RFP was accepted by SUNY, Fortis changed the provider of health services from ProHealth to NYU Langone Medical Center.
An alternate proposal by Brooklyn Hospital Center, which SUNY has rejected, would replace the hospital with 1,000 apartments and an outpatient facility.
Both proposals include limited emergency care, which has been criticized as inadequate by advocates who say that lives will be lost if critically injured patients need to travel through clogged streets to distant, overcrowded hospitals.
Health advocates are troubled by the fact that no assessment of the affected neighborhoods’ health needs has been carried out and that the traditional role played by LICH in providing “surge capacity” during disasters like September 11 and Superstorm Sandy has been overlooked.
One area hard hit by closing LICH would be Red Hook, a federally designated “Health Professional Shortage Area” even during good times.
SUNY said that respondents to its RFP had done their own assessment of northwestern Brooklyn’s needs.