SUNY agreement paves way for LICH sale

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Dan Goldberg

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SUNY officials have reached an agreement with labor unions and community advocates that paves the way for the state to sell Long Island College Hospital.

The settlement ends a year-long, contentious battle between the state system and local groups who complained about an unfair process that threatened to close the Cobble Hill hospital. The groups alleged that SUNY had shut them out of negotiations, and accused the state of being more interested in making money than in meeting the health care needs of the community.

Now, the unions and community groups will drop all charges of contempt and end any threats of litigation. In exchange, SUNY will rewrite and reopen its request for proposals, calling for new offers to take over the hospital. The RFP will only be open for three weeks, according to two officials close to the negotiations. The proposals will be scored for one week, at which point SUNY will presumably be able to sell LICH, which is costing the state about $13 million per month.

The settlement also allows SUNY to begin laying off staff at the hospital, which has had more than 1,400 employees despite only having about two dozen admitted patients.

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In exchange for the very short RFP timeframe, the two sources confirmed confirmed that the RFP will be completely rewritten so that there is an overriding emphasis on medical services instead of profit.

The full details of the settlement are expected to be released on Friday after the deal is formally approved by the unions and state officials.

While neither side will win a total victory, the settlement appears to give something to all the parties.

SUNY may have to reopen the RFP, but the settlement would spare top officials from having to defend their stewardship of the hospital in court.

The community groups may not end up with a full-service hospital, but the agreement would appear to ensure a significant health care presence at the site.

The developers may have to resubmit their bids, but a definite timeline will be in place.

“Today’s agreement is a victory for all parties involved and paves the way for putting a long-term, sustainable health care facility in place for the residents of Brooklyn,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. “We are in the midst of a health care transformation here in New York State, and the reality is that yesterday’s costly, inefficient models of delivering service are no longer viable options for tomorrow. Under the terms of today’s agreement, SUNY is reopening the solicitation process to find a new operator for LICH that will guide the facility as it modernizes and continues its important mission of serving New Yorkers.”

It remains to be seen what this transformation and modernization will look like. The current bidders do not envision a full-service hospital at the site. Instead, they all propose to use some of the LICH campus for a combination of luxury condominiums and affordable housing.

That possibility was previously decried by community advocates and politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was arrested during his mayoral campaign for protesting SUNY's decision to close LICH.

As a candidate, the mayor repeatedly called for more community input before closing hospitals, and denounced the plan to turn hospitals into real estate developments.
On Thursday, the mayor praised the agreement as major step toward providing meaningful health care at the site.

But the agreement does not guarantee a full-service hospital, and it does not prohibit the possibility that some of the space will be used for real estate.

Since taking office, de Blasio has appeared a bit more willing to compromise on those issues, provided the community's health care needs are met.

"For months we were told the free-fall closure of Long Island College was inevitable. We fought back. We went to court to keep the padlocks off the doors. We fought shoulder to shoulder with this community and used all the tools of City government to press for a better outcome,” De Blasio said Thursday in a joint press release with the governor.

“And now, we have a resolution that finally puts people's health first," the statement continued. "Protecting continuity of care and ensuring the healthcare needs of this community are met will now be the yardstick by which proposals for the future of LICH are measured. There is more work ahead, but we are closer than ever to the long-term, sustainable solution all of us have sought."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the RFP would be open for three months, not three weeks.