Bushwick hospital bails from $450-million merger plan

A $450-million state plan to merge three ailing Brooklyn hospitals could be in jeopardy because a financially troubled Bushwick health center refuses to sign off on the proposal and lose its independence.

The Brooklyn Hospital Center applied for an Albany grant on Friday that would consolidate the Fort Greene medical facility with the Interfaith Medical Center in Bedfort Stuyvesant and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick — a move that would appease Gov. Cuomo and the bean counters at the State Department of Health who urged debt-ridden private hospitals to cut rising costs this year.

But a source close to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center says the hopsital’s interim CEO has privately told staff that he would try to save the Wyckoff Avenue facility without a merger — going so far as to send a separate application for state money that doesn’t call for consolidating with any other hospitals.

Current Wyckoff honcho Ramon Rodriguez told Crain’s New York that he was surprised to learn that Brooklyn Hospital officials even included his medical center in their request for the Albany grant.

“How can an organization say we are involved when we are not?” said Rodriguez. “To say we are involved in the application is strange.”

A Brooklyn Hospital spokeswoman said that the health facility has informed Rodriguez of its merger plans.

“I have no idea why he would say that,” said Brooklyn Hospital spokeswoman Catherine Derr. “His comments as quoted expressing surprise are inaccurate. It has been clear all along we were always going to propose the integration of the three hospitals based on the [state’s] request.”

Last summer, Cuomo convened a state health commission, dubbed the Medicaid Redesign Team: Brooklyn Work Group, to determine how to eliminate debt from private hospitals, including Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, which owes the state about $91-million.

Community leaders and public officials feared its closure and begged the state not to shutter the Bushwick hospital at a public hearing in Manhattan in July, arguing that other medical centers in the region would have to absorb hundreds of thousands of emergency room and clinic visits each year.

The commission discussed several other options during the fall, including the proposed merger with Brooklyn Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center, which would keep Wyckoff afloat.

But Wyckoff’s diagnosis became even more grim when the hospital fired then-CEO Rajiv Garg late last year because he allegedly racked up big expenses including travel reimbursements for flights to Europe and several $300 dinners — and used hospital funds to buy a $33,000 limo to chauffeur him around.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is currently looking into whether Garg and other hospital officials broke any rules. No charges have been filed against the hospital and District Attorney Charles Hynes declined to comment about the investigation.

Two board members and several doctors resigned in the wake of the investigation in January, but the remaining members of the board of trustees have steadfastly refused to accept a merger with Brooklyn Hospital, according to a Crain’s report.

But Brooklyn Hospital leaders are confident that the agreement — and nearly half-a-billion dollars in state aid — will come through.

“This proposal will have a transformative impact on the health of Brooklyn’s residents, while creating a new, financially sustainable health care delivery model,” said Brooklyn Health Center CEO Richard Becker. “With the creation of an integrated system, we will have a more effective health care delivery system to address the needs of the Brooklyn community.”

State health officials will decide on the proposed consolidation by the end of March. If an agreement is negotiated by then, Brooklyn Hospital officials estimate it will take two years to put a merger among the hospitals into effect.

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.