Proposal would give Gov. Kathy Hochul power to choose NuHealth chair
New legislation introduced by Democrats in the State Legislature would give the governor the power to appoint the chair of the board that runs Nassau University Medical Center, instead of the Nassau County executive.
The legislation sponsored by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) and Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead) would transfer control of a key political appointment from Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, to Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat.
The legislation also would require the governor’s approval to hire the chief executive of NUMC, the only public hospital in Nassau.
The measure would expand the board of NuHealth, the public benefit corporation that runs NUMC, from 15 members to 21.
Darling told Newsday the legislation represented an effort to insert, "more state involvement in this whole process, because our overall goal is to save this safety net hospital."
Darling continued: "We just want to make sure that the right people are at the table with the right agendas."
In a statement, Blakeman called Darling’s and Thomas’s proposal "a blatant attempt to grab power from local government."
Blakeman warned if the state were to alter the board’s governing structure, Nassau no longer would guarantee NUMC’s debt, which was more than $150 million at the end of 2020.
The legislation comes after Blakeman replaced former NuHealth chairman Edward Farbenblum, a Democrat, with Matthew Bruderman, a financial adviser and prominent Republican donor and fundraiser.
NuHealth has experienced persistent operating deficits in recent years, along with frequent turnover among board members and top NUMC staff.
Bruderman told Newsday in an email: "I don’t understand how the State can just reach into a county institution that was intentionally set up so that the state, county, and others share control and then seize control unilaterally. It sounds like some people in Albany went to the same school as Putin."
Avi Small, a spokesman for Hochul, said Wednesday the governor would "review the legislation if it passes both houses."
Under Thomas’s and Darling’s legislation, the speaker of the state Assembly, the Senate majority leader and the governor — currently all Democrats — each would select two new NuHealth trustees.
The board has 15 voting members — eight appointed by the governor, three by the Nassau County executive and four by the Nassau County Legislature.
Thomas and Darling said they were committed to saving NUMC.
Thomas said if expansion of the board isn’t enough to improve NuHealth’s performance, a state monitor may be needed.
"Currently, the way things are going with the board, and their petty politics there, they need to focus on actually running the hospital," Thomas said.
Dr. Anthony Boutin, chief executive and president of NUMC, said in a statement: "My number one goal is to keep the hospital and nursing home open for the Nassau County residents who rely on their world class care. I have confidence that Chairman Bruderman and the current board are committed to that same mission."
Bruderman said in his email he hoped to institute meaningful reforms at the public hospital.
"I may have been appointed by a Republican, but I assure you that my position is that there should be NO politics in a hospital," Bruderman said.
"All of this nonsense and years of mismanagement was because people seemed to have been appointed for all the wrong reasons," he said. "The institution is a mess."
Bruderman said he was open to reviewing NuHealth’s governing structure.
"To date, nobody could fix it. Now it’s my turn," he said.
"I do think it’s wrong that the state is trying to seize control, but I do think that how the board and hospital are run should be looked at more carefully," Bruderman said. "It just shouldn’t be done hastily, unilaterally and for the wrong reasons."