LICH patients caught in healthcare tug-of-war
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cash-strapped SUNY Downstate Medical Center attempted to remove patients from Long Island College Hospital (LICH) on Saturday despite a new court order forbidding their removal, according to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and nurses at LICH.
Hospital staff called the NYPD twice over the weekend to enforce the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
A spokesman for SUNY Downstate, Steven Greenberg, told the New York Times that no attempts had been made to move patients on Saturday. The Brooklyn Eagle, however, photographed an elderly patient being wheeled on a stretcher outside the hospital on Saturday afternoon. It was not clear where she was being transported to.
The Times also reported that a patient who was transferred to Downstate from LICH last week has died.
"Today, 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,” de Blasio said in a statement on Saturday.
On Sunday night, LICH nurses reported on Twitter that Downstate was “locking doors all over the hospital," prompting worries that this was a “violation of [the] fire code.”
Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued the order on Friday at de Blasio’s request.
On Saturday, Downstate filed a motion to appeal the order, according to the Times.
At a press conference on Sunday, de Blasio said, “We’ll be back in court tomorrow.”
Downstate, in East Flatbush, has obtained permission from the state Department of Health to close LICH, a 155-year-old Cobble Hill hospital it took over two years ago.
But elected representatives and residents are fighting the closure, saying it would cripple health care in northwestern Brooklyn.
Justice Baynes issued the order on Friday on the grounds that de Blasio’s filing demonstrated “immediate and irreparable injury if Respondent’s [Downstate’s] actions are not temporarily restrained until a hearing on a preliminary injunction,” which he scheduled for July 25.
Justice Baynes wrote that SUNY Downstate was 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.
However, Downstate continued to divert ambulances from LICH over the weekend and refused to allow LICH to admit patients.
LICH serves a swath of Brooklyn stretching from Red Hook to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, encompassing brownstone neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill along with Downtown Brooklyn.
Amidst almost-daily protests and legal actions by LICH supporters (another rally is planned for Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Cadman Plaza Park), Downstate has been dismantling LICH in order to “monetize” its valuable real estate assets as part of its own survival plan.
Downstate has barred ambulances from LICH’s emergency room, closed core departments, removed residents in training and prohibited new admissions.
SUNY’s closure plan calls for LICH to “cease admitting patients from its Emergency Department (ED) at noon on July 22, 2013,” and to transfer all remaining patients by July 28.
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.”
Since banning ambulances from LICH, ERs across Brooklyn have been overwhelmed and waiting times have multiplied.
During last week’s heat wave, Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene, the closest hospital to LICH, diverted ambulances from its own ER, while ambulances lined up on the street outside Methodist Medical Center for hours.
Since Downstate began emptying patients from LICH, LICH’s financial losses have multiplied to $15 million a month, according to Downstate’s accounting – more than five times the losses LICH incurred as recently as February.
Even multi-billionaire Warren Buffet has expressed dismay about LICH’s situation, according to the Wall Street Journal. The $135 million left in an “untouchable” trust to LICH by Brooklyn Heights residents Donald and Mildred Othmer, who made their fortune by investing in Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, has been drained over the years, beginning under the ownership of the previous operator, Continuum Health Partners, and continuing under Downstate’s tenure.
While the court said Downstate would be liable to repay all the Othmer money, Downstate President John Williams wrote in a January letter to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that the university would "replenish the Trust only when and if it is able to."