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Lawsuit to return $154M to replace Long Beach hospital dismissed

A group of city residents said FEMA disaster funds should have been used to make Long Beach Medical Center, which was closed after Sandy, a full-service hospital.

The Long Beach Medical Center, seen on March

The Long Beach Medical Center, seen on March 26, 2013, closed after it was damaged during superstorm Sandy. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a group of Long Beach residents seeking a return of $154 million in disaster funds to replace the Long Beach Medical Center, which was closed after superstorm Sandy.

The Long Beach-based Beach to Bay Civic Association had sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2016 after South Nassau Communities Hospital, which purchased the medical center, announced plans on how to spend $154 million in FEMA funds. South Nassau plans to spend $109 million at its hub in Oceanside and $45 million to build a stand-alone emergency room and medical arts pavilion in Long Beach.

South Nassau opened the 911-receiving emergency center in 2015, which is set to be expanded with rotating specialists while all surgical and inpatient care would be treated in Oceanside. The project is under an 18-month environmental review.

A group of residents, led by five Long Beach activists — Barbara Bernardino Dubow, Martin Gruber, Constance DiBenedetto, Mark Tannenbaum and Ed Glister — challenged the funding in a suit filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Oceanside, claiming the entirety of $170 million, including $154 million in FEMA funds, should be used in Long Beach to return a full-service hospital to the barrier island.

The case was dismissed Jan. 18 following nearly 18 months of motions and a request by FEMA to dismiss the case.

Judge Denis R. Hurley ruled that the civic association did not have standing to file suit against a federal agency and had no claim to how FEMA’s money to South Nassau was spent. The court also found that “FEMA is certainly in no position to force New York to reopen the Long Beach Medical Center.”

“It is apparent that the defendant has an element of choice in approving alternate use of project funds,” Hurley wrote in his ruling to dismiss. “For example, nowhere does the policy state that if a proposed alternate project meets certain criteria that it will be guaranteed to receive the funding.”

South Nassau officials have said replacing the Long Beach Medical Center was not financially viable, and the city did not meet the demand to sustain a stand-alone hospital. Oceanside was selected to meet the needs of Long Beach residents and serve communities along Nassau’s South Shore, officials said.

“We are pleased that the federal court has dismissed the Beach to Bay lawsuit on several grounds, including that they lacked standing to sue and that FEMA acted within its authority when it allocated disaster relief funds to South Nassau following Super Storm Sandy,” South Nassau spokesman Joe Calderone said in a statement.

Francis McQuade, an attorney for the civic association, said the ruling could be seen as “prehistoric” as federal agencies are further deregulated. He said he would review the ruling for a possible appeal.

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