BHB: What you’re describing sounds very similar how the community rallied together to save LICH… but their efforts failed.
PS: I worked very hard on that issue. I founded a group called Parents for LICH to organize parents in the neighborhood to be a force to protect the institution because that’s a vital set of people dependent on the hospital. My daughter was born at LICH and I was the leader of a campaign in Western New York that saved two hospitals outside of Buffalo, St. Joseph and DeGraff Hospitals, both community hospitals like LICH. [But] not like LICH because they’re not sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate value.
In the end, Governor Cuomo was determined to sell [LICH] off for real estate. What’s driving that transaction… is that SUNY Downstate is on the verge of failure. So SUNY Downstate’s set-up is to take the property, sell it so they can paper over [their] problems for another few years.
Those two institutions are still there and functioning well, despite the fact that the state government was determined to close them through the Berger Commission process. I was able to lead a campaign that was able to save those two institutions. I understood what needed to be done at LICH. Governor [Cuomo] and SUNY deserve the blame for what took place in [closing] the institution. They were determined to close LICH and sell it for real estate. They did not listen to the community’s needs
When I started Parents for LICH, the first thing I noticed was that everybody was talking exclusively about SUNY and the Department of Health. Nobody was talking about Governor Andrew Cuomo. He is the decision maker in this position, not the Department of Health, not SUNY. The first thing we did was print up a thousand posters that said: “Governor Cuomo: Save LICH”. And I hung those throughout the neighborhood and in businesses.
That was one of many attempts to make Governor Cuomo the focus of the issue so that he would feel accountable from the communities to actually save the hospital. In the end, Governor Cuomo was determined to sell [LICH] off for real estate. What’s driving that transaction, besides the real estate industry’s and the developer’s influence, is that SUNY Downstate is on the verge of failure. So SUNY Downstate’s set-up is to take the property, sell it so they can paper over [their] problems for another few years. That’s what was driving the LICH sale to Fortis.
Fortis was clearly set up by SUNY too be their bidder—both at the front end and—most realistically—in the final bidding process. We must make sure that [Fortis] provides the services that are needed most in the community—it’s not a full service hospital which they’re proposing, which is a loss for the neighborhood. It’s not 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, which is what LICH had, a big loss for the neighborhood. It’s not the kind of lifesaving interventions that are needed in acute emergency situations.
Now people are going to go to Methodists and other hospitals and there will be health consequences and deaths as a result because there’s a big traffic problem between here and Methodist. If you’re sitting in an ambulance for another 10 minutes that could make the difference in a lot of people’s lives… a huge loss for the neighborhood.
[It’s] going to be an ongoing issue of what is going to happen at that site. There’s going to be housing in the site and we have to make sure that it stays inside of the character of the neighborhood. Most specifically that means not going up. Instead, [development that] is inside of the buildings that are there—the envelope and structures that already exist.
Clearly they’ll be luxury development there, that’s not good for the neighborhood, because it will raise housing prices and will put more pressure on the schools, mass transit and other infrastructure. But what we really have to fight off is tall condo towers on top of those buildings.
The other thing that is possible, [is] in addition to 90,000 square feet of medical space,which is what Fortis has committed to doing, with Lutheran and NYU—and that’s useful because there’s primary care clinics, there’s an emergency room that is a step down, but better than just doctor’s offices—we need to hold on to that and make sure that is locked in for the long term. We also should get other benefits: retail level space that is smaller storefronts so we don’t… end up with another big chain moving into the neighborhood and pushing out small businesses.
[W]e can also negotiate with the developer on affordability issues and [a] school. This is an opportunity to site an early childhood center or a school, but that’s a decision that the community needs to make together with the developer. The Cobble Hill Association and other organizations are engaged in thinking this through carefully. I would work with the community to present a united front to Fortis, to state government, to SUNY and to the Governor to ensure that we end up with the best result possible.