SUNY Downstate forbidden from diverting ambulances from LICH
By Raanan Geberer and Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a dramatic turn of events, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio on Friday successfully petitioned a judge for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) blocking Long Island College Hospital’s immediate closure, despite a letter from the state Department of Health approving SUNY’s Downstate’s closure plan.
De Blasio planned to personally serve LICH administrators with the TRO at 5 p.m. on Friday, supported by State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember Joan Millman, Council Members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin and other elected officials.
Supreme Court Justice Johnny L. Baynes issued the TRO on the grounds that de Blasio’s filing demonstrated the “immediate and irreparable injury if Respondent’s [Downstate’] actions are not temporarily restrained until a hearing on a preliminary injunction, adding that the Downstate’s actions demonstrate “disregard for the Court’s orders and may interfere with protection of the status quo.”
Justice Baynes wrote that SUNY Downstate is immediately restrained “from taking any action or issuing any order that would interrupt, hamper or curtail medical professionals duly employed by or working within LICH from providing medical care, including emergency medical services.” He also forbid Downstate from diverting ambulances or patients from the hospital, as Downstate has been doing for weeks.
SUNY Downstate must appear before Justice Baynes on July 25.
New York State Nurses Association Executive Director Jill Furillo sent out words of thanks for the TRO, calling SUNY’s move to close LICH “reckless.”
"SUNY has created a healthcare meltdown in Brooklyn -- putting patients at extreme risk during an extreme heat wave."
Councilmember Stephen Levin said the fight would go on. “Today’s court order proves what the community has known all along: SUNY’s maneuver’s to shut down LICH fly in the face of the law and are detrimental to the health of Brooklyn.”
Earlier on Friday, SUNY Downstate had revealed a letter from DOH allowing financially-troubled Downstate to close LICH, a Cobble Hill hospital it took over two years ago.
According to the letter to Dr. John Williams, President of Downstate, LICH would “cease admitting patients from its Emergency Department (ED) at noon on July 22, 2013,” and transfer all remaining patients by July 28. The letter went on to say that LICH would continue to operate its ED with all supportive ancillary services, including laboratory, radiology, social work and pharmacy, until July 29, 2013.
Elected officials called DOH’s approval of the closure plan, “a terrible mistake.”
“By allowing SUNY to mothball LICH before a new operator is in place, DOH's decision undermines a long-term healthcare solution for the community and Brooklyn,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron. “There are solutions for LICH, and significant interest from potential operators -- but the state and SUNY have come together to undermine those, instead of working collaboratively to make them a reality.
Friday morning, de Blasio announced that he was filing the legal action in Brooklyn Supreme Court to block the closure.
Over the past couple of weeks, Downstate has closed core departments at LICH, transferred all but 18 patients and diverted ambulances from the Emergency Room, causing overcrowding and long delays at ERs across Brooklyn.
With de Blasio on the podium at the noon rally on Friday were Deputy Borough President Sandra Chapman, representing Borough President Marty Markowitz; state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Councilwoman Letitia James, Councilman Brad Lander and several LICH employees. A crowd of supporters gathered across the hospital, chanting "Save LICH!" and other slogans and cheering as cars honked their horns. Some of their chants taunted Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom up until now has been silent on the issue.
One neighborhood woman, Anna Ruggiero of Union Street, said she has been coming to the hospital for more than 50 years. Speaking about the diversion of ambulances to New York Methodist, she told the Eagle, “The other day, I saw an ambulance (heading to Methodist) stuck on Union Street for 20 minutes.”
Many of the protesters wore LICH uniforms showing their departments: Emergency, Case Management, Radiology. Kenneth Goudoras, one of those employees, said. ‘This is one of the best hospitals in Brooklyn.”
Assemblywoman Millman told the Eagle, “It’s a disgrace. They’re pulling out patients, putting them onto ambulances and taking them to other hospitals, risking their lives. The other day they took out a man on dialysis and drove him to Downstate.”
Squadron led the protesters in a chant, referring to the almost-daily protests: “Were you here yesterday?” “Yes!” “Are you here today?” “Yes!” “Will you be here tomorrow?” “Yes!”
Meanwhile, anger in the communities served by LICH grew. John McGettrick, head of the Red Hook Civic Association, said, “It’s clear the closing of the hospital would have a serious impact on Red Hook. Asked about whether it would be quick for ambulances to get from Red Hook to New York Methodist, he answered, “That depends on the time of day, and whether the Hamilton Avenue drawbridge is up.” He accused the SUNY board of being more concerned with real estate than with healthcare.
Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle, “It seems to me that in all my years of watching condos being put in our parks and our libraries being sold, the actions of the SUNY Downstate administration in terms of creating this artificial crisis has got to be one of the most craven, irresponsible and reckless acts I’ve ever seen.”
Updated at 6:55 p.m. with quote from Councilmember Stephen Levin.