Patients: 'Where are the ambulances?'
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Doctors at Long Island College Hospital (LICH), who were previously notified by SUNY Downstate that they would be terminated on September 9, have not yet received contract extensions, hindering efforts to resume critical services at LICH as ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest.
“I have doctors calling me daily,” said Dr. Toomas Sorra, president of Concerned Physicians of LICH, a doctors’ group that has been working to save the embattled Cobble Hill hospital. “No full time or part time doctors have received renewal extensions. Until Justice Demarest nails down a decision, SUNY still calls the shots. It’s a mess.”
Dr. Sorra added that doctors at the LICH clinic on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights have not been able to schedule any patient visits past this upcoming Friday. “They’ve received zero information. They don’t know their malpractice status and they’re completely in limbo,” he said.
Cash-strapped SUNY Downstate took over LICH, a 155-year-old hospital serving northwestern Brooklyn, two years ago from Continuum Health Partners under an arrangement signed off on by Justice Demarest. Under the agreement, SUNY received all of LICH’s valuable assets in return for keeping the hospital in operation.
SUNY, however, has been trying to shut LICH down since February, in the face of vehement community opposition and in defiance of stays ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes. After pulling a number of doctors from LICH earlier this year, SUNY closed the residency program there in June.
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 transferred back to the previous operator, Continuum, or to another willing operator. Continuum, which is in the midst of a merger with Mt. Sinai Medical Center, has refused to take it back, but other organizations have expressed interest.
As part of her decision and order, Justice Demarest gave SUNY until September 3 to restore LICH’s Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department and ambulance service. But without a full complement of ER doctors on staff, the ambulance bays at LICH remained empty on Tuesday.
According Dr. Sorra, SUNY Downstate has made little effort to staff LICH. He said the Concerned Physicians group provided weeks ago “a comprehensive list of MDs” but nothing came of it.
On Tuesday, lawyers for both SUNY Downstate and the LICH supporters (including Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, six civic groups, doctors, the New York State Nurses Association, Local 1199 and patients) met with Justice Demarest.
David Doyle, spokesperson for SUNY, told the Brooklyn Eagle late Tuesday, "We had a productive meeting with the judge and continue to work closely and in good faith with the court to resolve outstanding issues regarding SUNY’S association with Long Island College Hospital. Recruiting doctors and staff is costly and challenging but these efforts are ongoing and demonstrative of SUNY’S commitment to patient safety and desire for an expeditious resolution to the current situation."
On Tuesday about a dozen LICH patients and local residents held a vigil outside LICH to wait for ambulances that never came.
“It’s ridiculous, this ambulance diversion. They’re putting patients in jeopardy,” said LICH patient Deborah Bingham. “SUNY is not abiding by the law.”
“I am very disappointed that such a fine medical school as SUNY Downstate, where members of my family studied medicine, is so arrogantly disregarding the law and putting the health of Brooklynites and all New Yorkers at risk,” said Susan Raboy, another LICH patient. She was holding a sign saying, “SUNY We Are Watching You.”
There are signs that some areas of the hospital are reopening. Dr. Cesare Saponieri, Director of Electrophysiology at LICH, told supporters on Tuesday, “We did open cardiology -- we did an angioplasty today. The Cardiology Department is fully functional; there are doctors in the Cardiology Lab and plenty of physicians are available.” He added that he was told his contract would be extended until October.
Dr. Sorra told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday, “There are still walk-ins, patients are still being admitted.”
Justice Demarest ordered on August 28 a full accounting of LICH finances and the status of all funds since May 2011, when SUNY took over LICH.
She also said that funds previously “borrowed” in 2000, 2006 and 2011 from the Othmer Endowment Fund at LICH must be restored by LICH and SUNY. Further, she imposed “a constructive trust for the benefit of the Othmer Endowment Fund” on all of LICH’s real property currently in control of SUNY Downstate.
De Blasio et al have also proposed putting LICH property and medical records in a protective trust.
Updated at 1:32 p.m. with Dr. Saponieri's statement about his contract.