State to DeBlasio: You want LICH? You can have it

Judge: State’s closure of LICH was unconstitutional
Photo by Paul Martinka

The state is willing to hand over the keys to Long Island College Hospital rather than turning it into condos, State University of New York officials announced at a Tuesday meeting.

University board members were scheduled to vote on a whether to consider a bid to convert the hospital that sits on land valued at $500-million into a luxury condominium complex with an urgent care center, but delayed the decision, offering to let mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio’s city government take over the hospital instead. Advocates for keeping the 155-year-old institution open say the move is a big win.

“We are stunned,” said Jeff Strabone, a member of the Cobble Hill Association and anti-closure activist. “This is a victory.”

Members of the board of trustees for the state university, which runs the hospital and has been trying to shutter it since February, said at Tuesday’s meeting that they were uneasy about the actions the state had taken to close the hospital despite court orders barring such maneuvers. One said he went along with the moves, but only because he did not want to make waves, and that now he is having second thoughts.

“I’m not exceedingly confident with the direction we’ve taken at many points, and at many points I feel I had supported this for the greater sake of SUNY — which is, of course, our greater allegiance,” a board member said at the meeting. “I really need to be confident that the advice and council we’re getting is the right one, and right now I don’t see enough to say that.”

In an about-face from the state’s strategy up to this point, the board now says it wants to see if DeBlasio will order the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation to take over before it continues talks with a private buyer.

Activated: Jeff Strabone of the Cobble HIll Association says the state's choice to delay considering a bid to turn the hospital into condos is a major victory.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

DeBlasio backed the anti-closure effort as public advocate during his mayoral campaign, going so far as to get arrested for the cause. Hospital lovers say that the state’s proposal for a city takeover is a viable solution and all it would take is the mayor-to-be acting on his commitment.

“Bill DeBlasio ran on the hospital, he wants a moratorium on hospital closures, and we look forward to him fulfilling his promise,” Strabone said.

The bid that was being considered came from the developer Fortis Property Group, which pitched a plan to tear down the hospital and build a condo complex that would include a so-called “medical mall,” featuring an urgent care center, dentist offices, and surgery facilities, but no emergency room. It was one of the state’s favored proposals among a still-secret number of others. A sale would not erase the debt the state has racked up while running the hospital, the board said.

No takeover proposals came from in-state hospitals, according to the university board.

The state is still facing a court hearing on Jan. 21 to decide whether its repeated moves to close the hospital merit fines. Activists have called for officials to be jailed for their handling of the hospital.

A state spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

LICH-ing dangerously: The state now says it is willing to let the city take over beleaguered Long Island College Hospital.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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