Time to save LICH, but not much

Bill de Blasio. (Public Advocate Bill de Blasio)
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Dan Goldberg

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An ally of mayor-elect Bill de Blasio appears to have played a key role in averting a deal to transform Long Island College Hospital into medical facilities and luxury condominiums.

SUNY Trustee Richard Socarides, who like de Blasio worked in the Clinton administration and held a fund-raiser for the mayor-elect back in October, expressed deep reservations about a proposed deal with Fortis Property Management.

His remarks at a SUNY hearing, which came shortly after de Blasio released his own statement calling for emergency care at LICH to be protected, exposed a rift on the board and also demonstrated how maintaining an emergency room at the money-losing Cobble Hill hospital could prove to be a sticking point in future negotiations with any developer.

Some of the SUNY trustees have spoken with people close to de Blasio to plot a way forward, sources tell Capital, but no plan has been finalized.

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It is also not certain whether de Blasio, whose mayoral campaign was bolstered after he was arrested during a rally to keep LICH open, can broker a deal acceptable to all sides, though several trustees on Tuesday said it was worth giving him a shot.

"It's not just any mayor, it is a mayor who has been very interested in the appropriate delivery of health care in this city," Socarides told Capital Wednesday morning. "We don't know what he may choose to but we should give him an opportunity and let his team get up to speed.”

Speed is the operative word.

De Blasio, who did not respond to requests for comment, takes office in less than two weeks and even his most ardent supporters know he won't have much time to end the very stark disagreement between SUNY officials--who say the state can no longer afford the costs of running LICH--and a coalition of labor unions, elected officials and community activists.

“We need a solution in the next couple weeks,” Socarides said.

SUNY says it now losing $13 million a month operating a hospital that has only a handful of patients. No one—not the trustees, not the community, not de Blasio—believes that can go on much longer.

“We don't have an endless source of funds,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “We will have to cut programs. We could conceivably have to think about campus closures. $13 million is real money.”

On Tuesday, in the first time he has spoken substantively about LICH since his landslide election, de Blasio said the potential deal with Fortis did not go far enough to meet the needs of the community, and that he was troubled the proposed deal would “replace so much of LICH’s vital healthcare capacity with luxury condos, while failing to preserve essential services like emergency care.”

That's in line with what other elected officials and the New York State Nurses Association, as well as community activists have said in the past.

Jeff Strabone, who represents the Cobble Hill Association, said he could only support a deal that included emergent care.

But that was not part of the Fortis plan. While it would have included several outpatient specialties, it could not have accepted ambulances or treat emergencies.

Socarides said Wednesday the trustees learned the details of the Fortis proposal only recently and “there is a still a lot we don't know.”

After Socarides' speech, SUNY board chairman Carl McCall, who went into the meeting believing he had the support of his board, was forced to re-evaluate on the fly. He pulled his own motion and said after the meeting he was not certain what his next move would be.

While some trustees want to put LICH behind them as quickly as possible, others are concerned that the direction suggested Tuesday night did not adequately consider the concerns of the local community and its elected representatives.

“I need to be convinced the advice and counsel we are getting is the right one,” said trustee Joseph Belluck. “Right now, I don't have it.”

The reserve surprised McCall and his staff who were certain they had the votes.

“We had anticipated the resolution would pass,” said David Doyle, a SUNY spokesman. “The number of trustees who had reservations came as a surprise and therefore the chair took appropriate action.”