LICH supporters had threatened court action
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
SUNY issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying they would restore ambulance service to Long Island College Hospital (LICH) on Friday.
SUNY Downstate officials had abruptly halted admissions and ambulance delivery to LICH Wednesday night, causing confusion and anger in Cobble Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods.
SUNY blamed their actions on a shortage of medical specialists at LICH, and said that they would move doctors from other SUNY institutions to beef up the medical staff there.
Staffing levels have been allowed to deteriorate dangerously since February, when SUNY began its attempts to close LICH. Contracts for many LICH doctors were left unrenewed until the last moment, leading to shortages across critical areas, and some units are being staffed by temps.
“At the direction of the chancellor, SUNY is mustering resources, including using doctors from UHB and from other SUNY institutions across the state, with the goal of allowing for the safe and rapid resumption of BLS ambulances tomorrow [Friday],” said the statement issued by SUNY Director of Communications David Doyle.
The statement continues, “The day-to-day situation at LICH remains fluid and will continue to be until there is clear resolution of the many complicated issues involving the future of the facility. SUNY is making every possible effort to safely maintain current levels of service until such an agreement can be reached.”
Employees at the hospital were informed about the halt in admissions by a telephone call from Dr. Michael Lucchesi, Chief Medical Officer at SUNY Downstate and LICH, around 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Lawyers for a coalition fighting to save LICH had threatened to go back to court before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes if SUNY Downstate did not immediately restore the services.
Attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, “We are glad our efforts today have, apparently, rectified this situation. We will monitor the situation tomorrow, and continue good-faith discussions to restore stability, the lack of which is Dr. Lucchesi’s apparent design.”
Walden, who represents Public Advocate and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and six community groups, added, “SUNY-Downstate's press release this afternoon is merely added evidence that Dr. Lucchesi failed to maintain sufficient staffing to comply with the many Court's orders, and it does not commit to resume patient admissions. If we cannot resolve the continuing violations and secure adequate assurances tomorrow, we will seek contempt against Dr. Lucchesi and others.”
In a later email, Ronald Najman, Director of Communications for SUNY Downstate Medical Center, told the Brooklyn Eagle that LICH would be “maintaining the same level of care we have been since July, which includes very limited admissions.”
Jeff Strabone, board member of the Cobble Hill Association, said in a statement on Thursday, “The Cobble Hill Association believes that Wednesday night's termination of ambulances and admissions was a deliberate act by SUNY to sabotage LICH. We don't know why the SUNY leadership got cold feet. Perhaps the speed and ferocity of the response by the community and our legal team made them think twice. That is only our speculation. We can say for sure: SUNY's diversion of ambulances has further undermined LICH's reputation and caused confusion among those who need care. We hope that SUNY's ongoing pattern of contempt for law will lead to criminal charges.”
Carl Ginsburg, spokesperson for the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said in a statement, “We regret the suspension of ambulance services at LICH and are very pleased that SUNY has agreed to restore these services at Long Island College Hospital. SUNY has promised to restore ambulance services by tomorrow to the level of services that existed before yesterday evening's directive to divert.”
Saying that seventy-five thousand people rely on LICH for care, Ginsburg added, “We expect SUNY to provide the resources needed to fully support LICH and the communities it serves.”
"This is the second time in a week that SUNY trustees acted in a way that undercut LICH's ability to stay open and serve the area's communities," said Jill Furillo, executive director of NYSNA. "That needs to stop once and for all."
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 residents of Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and nearby areas.
SUNY 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 pointed to Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral race on Tuesday as a potential reason for SUNY’s actions.
“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.”
Justice Baynes had already scheduled a contempt hearing for November 18 to consider previous complaints by LICH supporters that SUNY has defied his orders numerous times.
The Save LICH coalition includes members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), Concerned Physicians of LICH, 1199 SEIU, Public Advocate and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Patients for LICH and six community groups.
Patients for LICH told the Brooklyn Eagle that they would be rallying outside of state Supreme Court in Downtown Brooklyn at 1 p.m. on Friday.
Updated at 6 p.m. with quotes from NYSNA.