Open the books! Hospital advocates demand LICH sale go public

News analysis: If LICH closes, housing towers could rise
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s the really hard sell.

The state could be scaring off potential buyers of Long Island College Hospital by cooking the books to make the medical institution appear completely unsalvageable, a move that would once again open up the land it sits on for sale, hospital advocates fear.

Residents and politicians who want to keep the 155-year-old Cobble Hill hospital operating say the only way they can be sure the State University of New York, which owns it, is doing right by the community is it to open the books so everyone can see once and for all how bad the hospital is actually doing — or if the situation isn’t as dire as the state is making it out to be.

“Without open books, potential suitors cannot evaluate LICH’s economic viability — and there is no assurance that the disposition of LICH will be a fair one,” wrote the community watchdogs at the Brooklyn Heights Association in a message on their website. “SUNY Downstate’s actions have revived fears that its real goal is to sell the land to a real estate developer.”

Hospital backers rejoiced last month when the state backed down from plans to shutter the hospital and sell off its incredibly valuable real estate, but now that it has been operating behind closed doors when it comes to the sale, they fear the worst.

Jane McGroarty, head of the Long Island College Hospital committee of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that both the State University of New York and the governor have not responded to requests to meet with her organization to talk about those fears.

But hospital representatives say that releasing the ailing hospital’s financials would be, at best, akin to playing poker with an open hand, and. at worst, against the law.

“The seller does not provide financial information until, first, they know the buyer is serious, and, second, until both parties sign a legal confidentiality agreement,” said spokesman Robert Bellafiore. “It’s not like someone walks in and says, ‘Hey I want to buy your hospital,’ and you say, ‘Okay, here are the books.’ ”

The state will seek formal proposals from prospective buyers to save the money-losing center this week, Bellafiore said.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.