By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Josephine Musarella, owner of the Made 4 Me boutique in Cobble Hill, was eating dinner on Sunday, June 23, when she choked on a bite of food. “I was suffocating, I passed out,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. “My eyes rolled back in my head, my hands were shaking and I slid down in my chair. My mother was terrified.”
An ambulance arrived within five minutes, she said. “Thank God I came out of it. But I couldn’t walk into the ambulance. When I slid down from the chair I put pressure on my foot. I must have broken my ankle.”
Instead of driving a couple of blocks to Long Island College Hospital (LICH), however, the EMTs drove Musarella to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope because of SUNY Downstate’s ban on ambulance runs to LICH.
“It took 20 minutes from Court and DeGraw to Methodist,” she said. “There’s so much traffic on 9th Street going to Methodist. And this was on a Sunday. If you have a heart attack you only have four minutes. Twenty minutes? You’re dead.”
Musarella said when the ambulance arrived at Methodist the ER was overwhelmed. “There was a lack of doctors. The nurse practitioner who saw me told me, ‘Today is really my day off.’ An aide who was taking my temperature told me, ‘I can’t do this, we can’t handle it.’
“There’s going to be people dying,” Musarella said. “Who do we sue?”
The emergency health crisis in Brooklyn seems no closer to a resolution as SUNY Downstate, in East Flatbush, fights a Brooklyn Supreme Court order to keep the Cobble Hill hospital open and fully staffed.
In 2012, LICH's emergency room saw 58,570 patients and admitted over 11,000.
In spite of the court order prohibiting SUNY Downstate from closing LICH, entered by Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, Downstate banned ambulance delivery, ended LICH’s residency program and closed all core centers. Doctors have been told to find other hospitals for their patients, wards have been padlocked and armed SUNY security guards patrol the halls. According to Dr. Toomas Sorra, spokesperson for Concerned Physicians of LICH, the hospital is currently serving only roughly 40 patients in addition to outpatients, and operating the gastrointestinal lab. “It’s a shell,” he said on Wednesday.
Dr. Sorra said that SUNY has appealed Justice Baynes’ order. “Everything is pushed back into the Appellate Court next Monday,” he said. The appointment of a referee in the case has also been pushed back pending the outcome of the appeal, he said.
Regardless of SUNY’s legal battles, the stark reality is that many of Brooklyn’s fastest growing neighborhoods are suddenly without emergency health care. LICH’s service area includes Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and related areas like the BQE and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
A paramedic who wishes to remain unnamed told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that the crisis created by the ambulance diversion is “undoubtedly affecting the health of people. Without a doubt, things slip through cracks. It’s been happening, and it’s really sad.”
Diverting patients from LICH to other hospitals is creating delays throughout the system, with some ambulances carrying patients into Manhattan because of the lack of capacity in Brooklyn, he said. “A lot of us carry extra supplies so not to go out of service. Other times, ambulances have to be cleaned, so we have to go back to LICH. It takes more time. It’s negatively affecting other hospitals in the area.”
“What happens when there’s a heat wave, when it’s 98 degrees?” he asked. “We’re waiting 30, 40 hours for a bed at Brooklyn Hospital. The whole situation is disgusting.”
Richard B. Becker, MD, president and CEO of Brooklyn Hospital Center said in a statement that despite earlier stories of fistfights breaking out in an overcrowded ER, the hospital has the situation under control. "Our Emergency Department is busier than prior to diversions at LICH, but we are not at capacity and are continuing to provide safe, high quality care to our patients.”
The ER at LICH is still accepting walk-in patients and nurses say there is plenty of staff on hand. Department of Health spokesperson Marci L. Natale told the Brooklyn Eagle via email on Tuesday that DOH “is monitoring daily the care and treatment of all LICH patients to ensure they are receiving appropriate care.”
In answer to a question about the sufficiency of health care in the area, Natale said, “The Department is working with the community to assess its health care needs and ensure continued access to care.”
Even though SUNY Downstate has virtually reduced LICH to a walk-in clinic, Natale told the Brooklyn Eagle that SUNY has not submitted a closure plan to DOH.
“In May, SUNY withdrew its closure plan and has not submitted a new one,” she said.