It’s official: the shell of Long Island College Hospital is no longer the state’s problem.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli approved the sale of the medical campus on Oct. 28, closing the book on the long battle over the closure and sale of the Cobble Hill hospital to make way for luxury housing. Officials with the State University of New York, which has controlled the valuable real estate since taking over the hospital in 2011, said the sign-off proves the deal with Fortis Property Group is completely aboveboard, despite vehement criticism to the contrary.
“Approval by the offices of the attorney general and state comptroller demonstrates that the contract complies with all state laws and the court-mandated settlement agreement, and allows the full and seamless transition of the facility to commence immediately,” said university chairman Carl McCall and chancellor Nancy Zimpher in a joint statement.
The approval comes after a barrage of legal challenges from community groups and staffers, first claiming the state had no right to shutter that the 156-year-old facility, then that the state stacked the process of picking a buyer and sabotaged two other developers whose bids scored higher in a court-mandated process. One of the groups advocating for a permanent, full-service hospital at the site, Patients for Long Island College Hospital, blamed Gov. Cuomo for the closure but said it came as no surprise that state pols went along with the plan begun by his handpicked university board.
“In fighting SUNY’s destruction of our hospital, we have discovered that in Governor Cuomo’s New York state the community has little voice or power,” the group said in a statement. “We are disappointed but not surprised that neither Comptroller DiNapoli nor Attorney General Schneiderman had the courage to stand up against Cuomo and stop the corruption that has marked SUNY’s ownership of LICH and the biased RFP process that has resulted in the sale of LICH for condos.”
Fortis is partnering with New York University Langone Medical Center to redevelop the property that boasts views of the Statue of Liberty. Details on the planned high-end residential development are in short supply, but the two companies have touted the healthcare facilities they say they will build on the site, as required by a lawsuit settlement. The medical complex is set to include a $175 million, four-story healthcare center housing 400 employees, including 70 doctors, according to the university.
New York University is set to take over the emergency department on Oct. 31.
Fortis has agreed to reimburse the state for its operation of the walk-in emergency department from May 23 until Aug. 31, when a lawsuit filed by staffers unions nearly scuttled the deal. Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes threw out the lawsuit after McCall threatened to pull the plug on the emergency room.
The state says ambulance service will return to the site “as soon as possible.” If or when ambulances do return, New York University says it expects to treat 35 to 50 patients a day and it has promised to employ two private ambulances to transfer patients to nearby hospitals when needed.
Advocates and local elected officials, as recently as last weekend, called on the comptroller and the attorney general to investigate the state’s management of the hospital, including the alleged mishandling of patient billing and the squandering of a $140 million endowment meant to keep the hospital running in perpetuity.
Fortis has still not released its final plans for the luxury housing complex, but its initial proposal said the development would include rental units, condos, and townhouses, one quarter of the units below-market-rate.
Former Patients for Long Island College Hospital member Susan Raboy said the sealing of the redevelopment deal proves the activists were right: People are going to die waiting to be transported to hospitals in other neighborhoods and it was all so that some politically connected developers could make a buck.
“This has always been about money,” Raboy said. “It is clear that saving lives meant nothing to them. Lives will be lost. They are getting away with murder.”