SUNY: Don’t come to LICH if you had a heart attack
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An excited crowd greeted the news that ambulance service has started back up at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) Friday afternoon. Public Advocate and mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio made the announcement at a rally that included cheering nurses, patients and supporters like Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin.
“We have stood up to save LICH with civil disobedience and court actions,” de Blasio said, adding that emergency rooms around Brooklyn will be less crowded now. “Minutes matter in an emergency. Losing ambulances to LICH put an entire community at risk. Today that ends.”
SUNY Downstate, which operates LICH, has barred ambulances from LICH’s ER since June, increasing travel times and overcrowding at hospital ER s across Brooklyn.
FDNY spokesperson Frank Dwyer told the Brooklyn Eagle, “As of 3 p.m. today, FDNY will begin once again transporting ambulances to LICH.”
As part of a comprehensive decision issued on September 4, State Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest also ordered the return of a fully operational Emergency Department and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) by September 11 at the latest.
De Blasio called the order a “game changer” in the fight to save LICH. “Judge Demarest has taken a lot of responsibility, and I really want to credit [her],” de Blasio said, as the crowd applauded. “She made clear that she expects this hospital to have a broad range of services as we work together for a long-term positive solution for this community.
“It’s clear momentum is on our side now,” he added. Members of the crowd cheered de Blasio, who has been a major advocate for LICH over the past tumultuous months.
Nurses are “cautiously optimistic that SUNY may finally start to comply with a Supreme Court judge's orders,” said Julie Semente, a long-time LICH nurse and a member of the New York State Nurses Association. “From day one in January, the LICH nurses said we would not abandon our hospital or the communities it serves. We led this fight, stayed the course for nine long months, and are still here to restore LICH to the high-quality full service hospital that the community of Brooklyn has depended on for 155 years.”
In her decision, Justice Demarest rejected SUNY Downstate’s suggestion that LICH be limited to an “urgent care center” or a“free-standing emergency department” without in-patient services.
“This Court directs immediate and continuing efforts to restore full acute-care hospital services as quickly as possible,” she wrote.
Despite this, SUNY said on Friday it was restoring only “non-critical FDNY ambulance service” to LICH.
SUNY spokesperson David Doyle said in a statement that LICH could only handle less-serious conditions like”abdominal pain, viral and flu like symptoms, sprains, strains, fractures, lacerations, sore throats, and infections.”
“LICH is not a full service acute care hospital and due to limited physician availability and resources is still only offering basic medical services,” Doyle said. Patients suffering from life-threatening conditions like stroke, heart attack, spinal cord injury, and pregnancy complications “are urged to not seek care at LICH.”
Dr. Toomas Sorra, President of the Concerned Physicians of LICH, said that SUNY was making it nearly impossible for LICH to reopen as ordered.
“SUNY Downstate has still not sent contract renewals to the majority of full-time LICH MDs whose contracts expire next Monday, September 9,” he told the Eagle on Friday.
“This situation has forced the LICH full-time MDs to stop scheduling patients past tomorrow, and will make it impossible for LICH clinics and private practices to stay open past this weekend – despite court orders.”
A request to SUNY to clarify the issue of the doctors’ contracts was not answered by press time.
SUNY has been trying to close LICH since February, in the face of vehement community opposition and in defiance of stays ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, who has also ordered SUNY to restore services to LICH. Justice Baynes has appointed a referee, Judge William C. Thompson, and has put in place two ombudsmen to report to Judge Thompson.
On August 20, in a bombshell decision, Justice Demarest found that SUNY Downstate had violated its contractual obligation to keep LICH open, and ordered that LICH’s assets be turned over to another operator. On Wednesday, she agreed to delay the turnover until September 11, on the condition that the ambulances start rolling on Friday.
In this week’s decision, Justice Demarest ruled that copies of all proposals received by SUNY in response to the July 17 RFP seeking a new operator for LICH “shall be promptly provided to this Court.”
She said that she had received the names of individuals who will form the two committees which will review and evaluate the proposals, which will likely include Justice William Thompson. But she also asked for committee members who would provide a broader representation of the charitable intent of the Othmers. She asked that the names of proposed committee members be provided by September 11.
Justice Demarest also ordered the Attorney General to provide the court with copies of all reports filed since 2000 relating to the application of funds, “borrowed” from the Othmer Endowment Fund.
Both LICH and SUNY “are directed to make a accounting of the Othmer Endowment Funds in their possession from January 1, 2000 to September 1, 2013, identifying the custodian of such funds and manner in which the funds were invested or applied to other purposes and the sums remaining at this time. Such reports shall be supplied by September 20, 2013.”
Several legal actions have been filed by parties including the New York State Nurses Association, Local 1199, the Concerned Physicians of LICH, Bill de Blasio, six Brooklyn civic groups and patients. Justice Johnny L. Baynes is presiding over most of these actions.
A motion by de Blasio and community groups to join the court case before Justice Demarest will be heard on September 11. They are being represented by the firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.