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Closure of Brooklyn hospitals raises legal concerns for patients

Tanya Gendelman, Esq. Photo courtesy of Tanya Gendelman

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In recent months, there have been reports of two Brooklyn hospitals on the brink of closure. And the legal rammifications are beginning to surface.

Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant asked a bankruptcy court on Tuesday to approve closure after the New York State Department of Health rejected a restructuring plan and denied the hospital any financial assistance.  

Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill, which is run by the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center (SUNY Downstate) in East Flatbush, is embroiled in a legal dispute to prevent SUNY Downstate from following through with its plans to shut LICH.  Caught in the middle of these disputes are the patients.

As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle previously reported, after SUNY made clear its intentions to close LICH, Brooklyn courts issued a series of Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO) demanding that SUNY Downstate halt steps to effectuate closure of LICH. The TROs explicitly stated that SUNY was prevented from removing patients from LICH and transferring them to other local hospitals. It has been reported that SUNY attempted to transfer patients in spite of the TROs.

“The New York City Police Department came to Long Island College Hospital and stopped SUNY from unlawfully transferring patients out of our hospital. The police came with the court order in hand and did their duty to uphold the order,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

SUNY Downstate filed motions to stay the TROs, and has argued that the mere filing of motions to stay, in and of itself, invalidates the TROs until higher courts make a ruling. Although the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, disagreed with SUNY’s interpretation of legal procedure, this legal battle may present SUNY and LICH with more legal troubles then just keeping the doors of the hospital open.

“There is the possibility that mistakes will happen during rushed patient transfers,” said Brooklyn attorney Tanya Gendleman. These potential mistakes may open SUNY and LICH to negligence lawsuits filed by patients who were injured during a prospective transfer or even after a transfer has occurred.

“There is going to be a great concern of a breakdown in doctor-to-doctor and patient-to-doctor communication,” warned Gary Zucker, also a Brooklyn attorney.  “The nursing and hospital staff treating patients at LICH, for example, have a relationship and familiarity with patients that will be lost when patients are transferred,” Zucker continued.

In general, hospitals deal with the transfer of patients on a daily basis. However, a massive, uncoordinated transfer of patients could increase the possibility of errors.  “Not every doctor or nurse reads through a patient’s complete medical file,” Zucker noted.  

During a routine patient transfer, Zucker explained, a doctor at the new hospital is often able to contact the referring doctor if there are any questions about the patient that may not be located in the patient’s medical history file.   When patients are transferred from a hospital that is closing, “It may become very difficult to locate the patient’s original doctor, since the location of that doctor may not be immediately known,” he added.

The situation at LICH and Interfaith is bringing forth a push for electronic medical records, in which patient data is complied in digital form, This reduces the need to have paper patient history physically transferred from one treating physician to another.  

“The one advantage of electronic medical records is that this can be transferred by computer…and should help facilitate the transfer of information contained in paper hospital records,” Zucker noted.

An employee in the medical records office at LICH told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that LICH does not use an electronic medical records system for its patients.

There are other problems in addition to ensuring that patient files are aptly transferred. Transferring facilities need to ensure that patients have “adequate supplies, food, and medication,” Gendelman noted.

At present, SUNY is required to maintain physician and nursing staff and is prevented from transferring patients, although patient transfers may be inevitable.

Interfaith Medical Center, on the other hand, has already created a closing schedule that calls for inpatient admissions to end Aug. 15, the emergency room to close Sept. 14, and for inpatient services to end Sept. 15.

August 1, 2013 - 4:00pm


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