Judge Baynes: Closing ER at LICH violates court order
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Saying that SUNY’s decision to reduce staff levels and bar ambulances from the emergency room at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) was a “clear violation” of his court order, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge said last week that he might go so far as to appoint a special administrator or special master to oversee LICH.
According to the court transcript of Wednesday’s proceedings, Judge Johnny Lee Baynes said that if SUNY Downstate had “actually barred ambulances” from the LICH ER, “that is in violation, clear violation of my order.”
A closed conference between lawyers from SUNY, LICH, the state Department of Health and Judge Baynes took place Monday afternoon. Reporters were not allowed inside the courtroom, but sources told the Brooklyn Eagle that SUNY has been ordered to report back Tuesday regarding their compliance with the Temporary Restraining Order.
Barred by the order from closing LICH outright, SUNY Downstate maintains they had to close the ER, psychiatric and critical care areas of LICH because of a critical shortage of staff, a situation compounded by SUNY’s elimination of the residency program at LICH.
“I am just really not happy,” Judge Baynes told SUNY lawyers Frank Carone and Susan Mauro on Wednesday. “On a day when you know you are coming to see me, I expect to hear good [things,] not someone coming into this courtroom saying, ‘Judge, they are closing the emergency room.’
“Theoretically . . . the last thing that should be closed is the emergency room, not the first, because somebody could be dying right now and that is what the Department of Health is charged with the responsibility of taking care of,” Judge Baynes said. “Make no mistake about it. The Court understands what is going on here.”
Judge Baynes asked Richard Zahnleuter and Emily Reisbaum, attorneys for the state Health Department, “In the event that I want to appoint a special administrator, is there going to be a problem in the Department of Health if this Court appointed some type of administrator itself?” He added, “Apparently whoever is there is not getting the job done.”
Zahnleuter responded that the Department of Health would have to review the competency of an appointed administrator before giving approval. Judge Baynes asked DOH to put together a list of potential administrators, though, he said, “I am hoping that with all the attorneys in this room, we don’t need to do that, but I will if I need to.”
He also threatened to hold individuals from SUNY Downstate in contempt. “Individuals will be named and they may well have to come before this Court and show cause why they shouldn’t be held in contempt,” Baynes said. He set a hearing for contempt for July 15.
“I want to hear positive things or I am going to sua sponte whatever I feel needs to be done,” he warned SUNY’s lawyers. Sua sponte (“of his own accord”) is a legal term that means a judge may take matters into his own hands without a prior request or motion.
LICH’s ER remained closed to ambulances over the weekend and was nearly empty on Monday, though doctors and nurses there say LICH’s ER is “fully staffed.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron Tweeted on Monday that other emergency rooms across Brooklyn are “insane.”
According to City Councilwoman Leticia James, due to overcrowding, fistfights broke out in the ER at Brooklyn Hospital on Friday.
In spite of the lack of ambulance service, patients are walking into LICH’s ER, said nurse Julie Semente, a registered nurse in LICH's intensive care unit.
“Our ER is very busy; 40 adults, about 20 children, 5 adults in critical care ER,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email on Monday. “Some walked in with chest pain. Despite all the chaos and confusion and havoc SUNY has brought down on this community, people are still coming to LICH.”
LICH supporters say that financially distressed SUNY Downstate is after LICH’s valuable real estate.