De Blasio celebrates an uncertain LICH deal

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Dan Goldberg

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Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed a settlement on Friday between SUNY, labor unions and community advocates as a “truly historic” accomplishment that will preserve and protect Long Island College Hospital, despite a number of unresolved questions about the deal.

Flanked by politicians, union leaders and community activists, the mayor reminded his audience that he was arrested over the summer at a rally to save LICH, and praised his colleagues for a deal that has “kept the wolf at the door.”

“Nothing in this town is inevitable if the people are united,” said de Blasio during a press conference at City Hall, adding that LICH would not be like the other 15 New York City hospitals that have closed since 2003.

As part of the deal, SUNY agreed to reissue the request for proposals, with a greater weight on health care, while labor and community groups agreed to drop a potentially embarrassing contempt lawsuit.

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But the agreement makes few guarantees for the financially troubled hospital, and it contains a provision that would allow SUNY to close the hospital as early as May 22.

The deal cannot compel hospitals—even those that have already submitted bids—to participate in the process, and it does not ensure that LICH will ultimately serve as a facility able to admit patients who need advanced life support, much less a full-service hospital in Cobble Hill.

“Everyone needs to go into this with their eyes wide open," warned Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, at a hearing in Brooklyn shortly before de Blasio's press conference. "This could go bad.”

Baynes said he was "impressed" with what community groups were able to achieve in the deal, but also warned, “If you don't have a bona fide purchaser [by May 22], Long Island College Hospital is going to close."

SUNY chair Carl McCall has said for months that no operator is interested in keeping LICH a full-service hospital, and the new RFP will only be open for three weeks, meaning any new bidder would have to work very quickly.

At his press conference, De Blasio said three weeks was “absolutely” enough time for a new bidder to craft a proposal, and that he was confident one would do so.

But de Blasio was careful not to draw any lines in the sand.

Asked if he would accept less than a full-service hospital, the mayor said he would not prejudge the process.

“We want health care for the communities and we want sustainability,” de Blasio said. “That can take many forms, undoubtedly.”

The mayor also seemed willing to accept that the winning bid might contain luxury condominiums as well as affordable housing.

“Health care is changing,” de Blasio said. “We get it. We are willing to embrace change as long as it is on terms that leaves no New Yorker behind.”

The mayor, the public advocate, the union leaders, community groups and other local politicians all shared in the credit for a deal that was largely driven by the threat of a contempt hearing and continuous public pressure, which ultimately forced SUNY officials to keep bargaining, even after they had decided on an offer from Fortis Property Group.

The deal now calls for SUNY to give 25 cents of every dollar it receives after the first $240 million to a health care not-for- profit chosen by the community and the public advocate.

“We finally have a deal that will preserve healthcare for our communities,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.

The deal also says that no bid can come in less than $210 million, protecting some of SUNY's liability and avoiding the possibility that a bidder promises to preserve health care on the cheap.

SUNY made other concessions as well, such as allowing the community's vote to count for 49 percent of the decision when awarding the RFP.

The new RFP will also give far more weight to health care services and far less to the finances. Jim Walden, the attorney representing the six community groups, said that should put to rest any fear that SUNY was simply trying to maximize its own revenue.

The community groups also were allowed to have significant input in writing the new proposal, which echoes many of the demands laid out last month by local politicians including James, Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and councilmembers Brad Lander, Steve Levin and Carlos Menchaca.

"We've long urged SUNY and the state to agree to a new, more open RFP process for LICH, to make sure our community and all of Brooklyn have the best possible healthcare outcome," they said in a joint statement. "Now, it's critical that the process moves forward in good faith and in a timely way, with meaningful community participation from the many neighborhoods that LICH serves."

But for that to happen, a new bidder must still come forward. 

A spokesman for North Shore-LIJ, which had been rumored to be looking at LICH, said the health system is not interested in bidding.

“We are interested in doing something in the community served by LICH, but feel like we do not need to get involved with the current bidding process to develop the type of outpatient care facilities that are needed in the community," said Terrence Lyman.

Brooklyn Hospital, which is partnering with Mount Sinai Medical Center and developer Related Companies, said it plans to resubmit its proposal, which does not, at the moment, call for a full-service hospital but does include luxury condominiums.

A spokesman for Fortis Property Group, which is proposing to partner with NYU Langone Medical Center and Lutheran Hospital, said the developer is likely to resubmit a proposal but is waiting to see exactly what's in the new RFP.

But even if the existing bids don't change, the objective of the RFP did. It now explicitly calls for a full-service hospital, Walden said.

That appears to be enough, for now, to satisfy the local politicians, unions and community groups all of which praised the deal.

"We are pleased that after more than a year of rallies, marches, court hearings, and even arrests, we have reached a tentative agreement with SUNY on a new process that we believe has the best chance of LICH remaining a hospital and which we hope will lead to the best possible outcome for the patients served by LICH," read a joint statement from NYSNA, 1199SEIU, and the six community groups, all of whom had been threatening SUNY with a contempt hearing.

The litigation is now off but the LICH clock is still ticking.