By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Bring back the ambulances!” a crowd of community members, officials, nurses and health care workers chanted at a noontime rally at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) on Wednesday.
Since the collapse of the deal between Fortis Development Group, NYU-Langone Medical Center and SUNY last Thursday, NYU’s commitment to return ambulance service to LICH by Sept. 1 has also fallen apart – even as emergency departments in other Brooklyn hospitals are overwhelmed.
NYU walked out on the deal after a judge ordered them to become involved in a case brought by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), which demanded that NYU stick to its agreement to give LICH nurses priority in staffing the proposed walk-in emergency department.
Officials said on Wednesday that if NYU is not willing to stick to their commitments, bring in someone who is.
“Brooklyn’s exploding population needs more health care services, not less,” said NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, calling the lack of hospital services to the communities served by LICH a “civil rights issue.”
“A decade ago, the state created a commission with the goal of closing hospitals. The new challenge is to increase services. What has happened in the last 18 months is nothing short of disgraceful,” Stringer said. “The city needs to ‘stress test’ hospitals. We need to open the books and investigate. The fiscal situation of hospitals should be part of the city budget.”
He added, “We have put luxury condos at the forefront of the debate, not healthcare.”
Dan Wiley, community coordinator for Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, said Velázquez is “deeply disappointed at the repeated failure of the bidder to live up to its commitments. Health care is a human right. SUNY must ensure that the ER remains open. This has a ripple effect – in Red Hook, Downtown Brooklyn -- it jeopardizes lives across the entire borough.”
“Transfer LICH to a team that can maximize health care,” he said. “It’s vital that the entire community has a say in the future of LICH.”
City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who represents Red Hook, a Federally Designated Health Professional Shortage area, said the community has been failed again.
“I will stand with the nurses, the community and with elected officials to the end," he said. "This summer a death in Red Hook was very much related and took place right after LICH’s closure. This affects us in a very real way.”
“SUNY, Fortis, NYU, stop playing games. Bring back ambulance service, respect the workers, respect the process,” said Councilmember Steve Levin, who represents Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO. He added, “What NYU has done is absolutely disgusting. Live up to your commitments.”
A coalition of patients, doctors, caregivers, nurses, community organizations and elected officials have been fighting for almost two years to keep the hospital open.
“We fought tirelessly to keep LICH open for care,” said Eliza Carboni, nurse organizer at LICH. “Now Fortis-NYU and SUNY are walking away from their commitments to the community.”
“There are a lot of lies being put out about LICH,” she said. “They’re trying to say it’s underutilized. In 2012, LICH had an occupancy rate of more than 90 percent. When SUNY ordered an ambulance diversion, patients demanded to be admitted.”
Nurses said that NYU tried to give the impression that LICH nurses, with decades of experience, weren’t as qualified as new hires with only one year of experience.
“NYU’s standards seem to be minimal,” said Jo Anne Simon, who recently won the Democratic primary for Joan Millman’s Assembly seat in AD52.
She told the crowd that she had been there at the beginning of the struggle to save LICH and would be there at the end. ”We need a full service hospital at LICH.”
Julie Semente, a nurse at LICH for more than 30 years, said, “It’s not about saving a couple of dozen jobs – SUNY threw out more than 1,500 jobs and all those health services. It’s about keeping the commitments that won Fortis the bid.
“Affordable housing is gone – that was in the proposal. Now NYU medical services are gone. Ambulance service by Sept. 1 was another commitment,” Semente said. “Our legal case is about NYU, Fortis and SUNY living up to the commitments they made. The court has rightfully taken our concerns about NYU, Fortis, and SUNY failing to live up their commitments seriously."
Trudy Wassner, a member of the advocacy group Patients for LICH, said the hospital was sold to a developer “because of its Statue of Liberty view.”
“This community is growing by leaps and bounds. Every block has huge condos, there’s a new park with thousands of visitors -- we need stability. Even before they began building, LICH was 90 percent full. Now with more people, we’re in really bad shape.”
Doug Biviano, former candidate for the 52nd Assembly District, said, "The hospital didn't die. They did this. The only thing dying is the people in our community."