Second opinion: State now admits LICH real estate was on the table

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

They denied it for weeks, but State University of New York officials have finally admitted that real estate was on their mind while determining what to do with the struggling Long Island College Hospital, court filings reveal.

State officials justified their controversial move to make a public meeting private by confessing they were discussing the hospital’s $500-million property holdings in secret one day before announcing the plan to shutter LICH, according to legal documents.

As part of a court case between the state and neighbors fighting to keep the hospital open, university officials admitted that the Feb. 7 meeting addressed “actions to be taken with respect to the real property on which LICH sits” — thus making the forum legal thanks to a narrow exception in the open-meeting law.

Among other topics, attendees of the closed-door meeting talked about “the proposed sale of LICH realty title,” said one affidavit, filed by Lora Lefebvre, the university’s associate vice chancellor for health affairs.

That is quite a reversal.

“I know there are a lot of people out there who are saying that this is really a real estate deal,” Robert Bellafiore, a spokesman for the university’s hospital system, told The Brooklyn Paper just a few week’s back. “The fact of the matter is that zero consideration has been given to the real estate factor of it. It is so cart before the horse, it’s not even funny.”

“There is no plan whatsoever with respect to real estate,” H. Carl McCall, the university’s chairman, told the New York Times last month.

But just because the state was talking about real estate, that doesn’t mean real estate was a significant part of the discussion, according to Bellafiore.

“When the matter was raised in the course of the executive session discussion, it was acknowledged as something that was on the community’s mind but also was not a factor in the analysis regarding the closure of LICH,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The university had other reasons it could legally convene the meeting, too, the filings said — board members were talking about union members and layoffs, and they wanted to solicit legal advice from the university’s counsel.

Activists claim the secret meeting was illegal, alleging that the board used the closed-door forum to discuss shuttering LICH.

They won a temporary restraining order against the State University that keeps the hospital open pending further hearings — potentially delaying the target closure date of May 21.

State officials claim the lawsuit isn’t just baseless, but also dangerous.

“While petitioner unions seek delay to protect their members’ jobs, further delay in the closure of LICH will dangerously deplete SUNY funds, and risk serious patient safety issues,” said one legal memo, provided by the Attorney General.

“Unless LICH can begin the process of closing down, it will exhaust its available cash reserves within the next 45 days, which will adversely affect LICH’s ability to offer hospital services,” the filing continues.

But employees still working at the hospital claim the shutdown is a land grab, plain and simple.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen the views,” said Lisa Goldschlag, a hospital nurse. “You can see the Statue of Liberty.”

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