Still waiting for Long Island College Hospital's 'historic moment'
Barring future good news, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio could experience his own version of President George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" episode.
On Feb. 21, the mayor held a triumphant news conference proclaiming a "truly historic moment" that would stem the "really unfortunate, unnecessary, destructive tide" of hospital closures citywide.
That day he announced an agreement by which the real estate of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn -- then temporarily run by the state university -- would be rebid and include "protecting health care long-term in this community."
Fast forward to Monday night when, as a holiday weekend waned, the cluster of LICH buildings sat mostly dark and silent, with the only ambulances visible parked around it locked up, some up on the sidewalk.
Lights were on inside the first-floor emergency room. A couple of medical personnel were helping a woman walk over to a desk. Mostly the place was empty. A big official sign outside advertised emergency care, specifically for heart attacks and strokes.
Two ambulances sat parked in an adjacent garage bay, with orange hand-printed signs attached to their rear doors, one stating: "Brooklyn, it was an honor serving you for 140 years."
Some might say it's a facility still on life support. Reasons involve a complex mix of health-care economics, state and city budgets, a private proposal for the site falling through, another being negotiated, and extended legal challenges.
Elected officials sometimes leverage their victory proclamations against future good luck. Eleven years ago Bush, standing under that "Mission Accomplished" banner aboard the USS Lincoln, declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ceased. Most of the war's casualties, we now know, were still to come.
As a mayoral candidate last year, de Blasio got himself arrested in civil disobedience over LICH's imminent closing. As mayor -- even at the outset -- he hasn't guaranteed the survival of a full-service hospital, saying in February, "This proposal [process] favors the most intensive health care possible."
When Newsday's Matthew Chayes asked de Blasio at a news conference Tuesday if he regretted his earlier assertion of "historic" triumph, the mayor said: "I'm convinced health care will be saved. I don't have any question about that . . . I know there's still negotiations going on, the details being worked out, but I want to remind you . . . there were days when it was going to be padlocked, done, no more health care, period."
"We managed to preserve health care for the long-term, final details pending, but I feel good about where it's going."
Bigger questions are pending as well, to be sure. How much service means health care is "saved"? Has the tide of hospital closures really been halted, and how? Is even a good deal for one Brooklyn neighborhood a "truly historic moment"?
Check back in a year, maybe.
The prognosis remains cloudy.
Dan Janison is a Newsday columnist.