Nurses: Shut down ‘in the dead of night’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Northwest Brooklyn received a body blow Wednesday night as SUNY Downstate –once again – halted admissions and banned ambulance service to Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
Somber patients, nurses and other staffers gathered outside of the Cobble Hill hospital late Wednesday to hear about the latest salvo in SUNY’s push to shut down LICH.
Employees at the hospital say they were informed by a telephone call from Dr. Michael Lucchesi, Chief Medical Officer at SUNY Downstate and LICH, around 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Jacqueline Smalling, assistant head nurse in the ER, told the Brooklyn Eagle that Dr. Jones, director of the ER, informed her that Dr. Lucchesi was in the process of obtaining a “complete diversion” of ambulances from FDNY.
Nurses said they received a confirmation Wednesday night from EMS personnel that a full diversion was in effect.
Maribel Agosto, medical surgical nurse at LICH, told the Eagle that LICH had been bustling with patients all day Wednesday.
“We had a full ICU, and on the medical/ surgical floor we started the day with 15 and ended it at 11.”
Another nurse said that on Wednesday the hospital “was doing hemodialysis, cardiac and GI services. We have up to 300 patients tethered in hemodialysis,” she added.
Members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) told the Eagle that their attorneys were in touch with attorneys from other members of the Save LICH coalition, including Concerned Physicians of LICH, 1199 SEIU, Public Advocate and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and six community groups. “Our leadership is reaching out to our allies,” one said.
Dr. Toomas Sorra, spokesperson for Concerned Physicians of LICH, told the Brooklyn Eagle late Wednesday, “Our attorneys are aware of this and are at present in communication with DeBlasio's legal team.”
Jeff Strabone, a member of the board of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle close to midnight on Wednesday, “I just walked into the ER and asked if I could be admitted. The intake person said I could be 'seen' but I would not be admitted. I asked how long this has been the case. She said: 'The decision was made a few hours ago.'
“Meanwhile,” Strabone added, “there are ambulances outside. I asked the EMT people why they were there. They said they were there to move patients to other hospitals.”
Financially-troubled SUNY Downstate has been trying to close LICH since February, in the face of vehement community opposition and in defiance of orders by state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes to restore services there to the levels in existence on July 19.
Judge Baynes’ court order, appealed by SUNY, was backed by the Appellate Division in October.
SUNY took over LICH two years ago. LICH serves roughly 75,000 residents of Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and nearby areas.
SUNY Downstate had previously banned ambulances from delivering patients to LICH back in June, leading to what many called critical delays and overcrowding in ERs across Brooklyn all summer. Partial ambulance service was not restored until early September.
Nurses and doctors late Wednesday said that this latest attempt to close the hospital was “illegal, and clearly violates Justice Baynes’ order.”
They pointed to Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral race on Tuesday as a potential reason for SUNY’s actions. De Blasio has strongly committed to saving LICH and other endangered Brooklyn hospitals, joining lawsuits and even getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience for the cause. De Blasio gained a large number of admirers across Brooklyn for his commitment, and was strongly backed by 1199 SEIU and NYSNA.
“De Blasio won in a landslide on a campaign based on saving hospitals,” said one NYSNA member. “Now they’re trying to strangle the hospital in the dead of night.”
On Thursday, City Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Boerum Hill and other areas, said, “Despite widespread community outrage, an impending contempt hearing, and the election of a new mayor who has fought tooth and nail in this struggle, SUNY is still determined to shut down Long Island College Hospital. They know what they are doing is wrong and will hurt the community, which explains why they are acting in the dead of the night to shut down LICH. Long Island College Hospital provides vital care to Brooklyn and we will continue to fight together against SUNY’s morally bankrupt actions.”
Justice Baynes has already scheduled a contempt hearing for November 18 to consider previous complaints by LICH supporters that SUNY has defied his orders numerous times.
A spokesperson for SUNY had no immediate comment.
Updated at 11:30 p.m. with a quote from the Cobble Hill Association's Jeff Strabone.
Updated at noon on Nov.7 with a quote from the Councilman Stephen Levin.