Nassau University Medical Center sits on 51.5 acres of valuable...

Nassau University Medical Center sits on 51.5 acres of valuable land in East Meadow, accessible to transportation. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's housing proposal seems somewhat overbearing. It appears the density formula would overpopulate some communities. It would also overtax the existing infrastructure, without sufficient funds to cover the development that would be required.

However, the proposal has stimulated a much-needed discussion that has been stymied by local zoning codes and the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome.

The lack of housing on Long Island certainly impacts the economy when it precipitates the emigration of our young families and seniors. Additionally, safe and affordable housing is essential for a physically healthy community.

Consistent with the governor’s recognition of the need for more housing, the state is in the process of applying for a federal waiver for Medicaid that would enable Medicaid to purchase transitional housing. Housing has been directly linked to improved personal health status leading to an overall reduction in the total cost for care.

While I was chairman of Nassau University Medical Center and exploring various opportunities to transition the institution to a more productive entity for Nassau County residents, mixed-use housing was one option considered. NUMC sits on 51.5 acres of valuable land with accessibility to transportation, on the fringe of a residential area bounded by a school, Eisenhower Park, and the Nassau County Correctional Center.

Multiple buildings on the campus are no longer used. Most have deteriorated due to the lack of use and capital necessary to maintain the structures. The changing health care market has reduced the need for the original bed capacity and expanded range of services for which the campus was initially designed.

On the campus there are vacant studios, and one and two-bedroom apartments originally constructed for a staff and student program. Other buildings, in various states of repair, were or could be used for housing. The Dynamic Care Building, the tower building, was designed for more than 550 beds. If the institution was restructured to meet current demand, no more than 300 psychiatric and medical beds combined are needed. Each of the 19 floors is designed for approximately 55 beds. Many floors are unused. Two floors are empty shells that were never built out.

The site was reviewed by a mixed-use housing provider and their architects to advise on the feasibility of such a transition. While it would require significant capital to rehabilitate the current facilities, the structures are sound and could be renovated for habitation. Without erecting any new structures, there is the potential for approximately 100 new units of housing on the site, with space left over for further development. 

In addition to this option, we explored selling the 51.5 acres, using the proceeds to clear the county’s bond debt and build a smaller urgent care hospital with expanded ambulatory services on other property NUMC owns. This is still a possibility but given the severe shortage of mixed-use housing and the limited availability of land, mixed-use housing on the current campus would seem to make the most sense.

As consideration of the governor’s budget progresses, the discussion should be expanded to include NUMC as an option. In addition to state dollars, there are federal funds and credits that could be tapped to cover the costs. Nassau County is in desperate need of affordable housing. Transforming the NUMC campus would be an opportunity to make public land work for everyone.

This guest essay reflects the views of Robert Detor, former chairman of the Nassau University Medical Center.

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