Ambulances are back at Long Island College Hospital but the state is still resisting pressure to make the medical center whole again.
The State University of New York stopped diverting ambulances on Friday afternoon after two and a half months of ignoring judges’ orders to restore emergency services to the beleaguered Cobble Hill institution, but not before trying to strike a deal to limit the hospital’s revival. Hospital staffers hailed the move as the beginning of a reversal of the state’s efforts to shut the place down, which began in February.
“This is a tremendous victory for our patients,” said Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, a nurses union fighting keep the hospital alive. “LICH nurses are standing by, ready to provide the very best care for patients. From the beginning, this fight has been about protecting care for our patients.”
The restoration came at the behest of Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Demarest, who for weeks has demanded that the hospital be removed from state hands and restored to full service. The ambulance diversion officially ended at 3 pm on Friday and at least two ambulances had brought patients to the emergency room by the evening, a union spokeswoman said.
Demarest initially ordered the ambulances back by Aug. 26, but she extended the deadline to Sept. 3 and finally to Friday after the state and hospital doctors said the hollowed-out facility was unprepared to bring back emergency care.
In her latest order, Demarest revealed that the state had asked for the service restoration be limited to an “urgent care center” or a “free-standing emergency department” in exchange for the return of ambulances. Demarest rejected the request.
The new deadline for restoring full medical services is Sept. 11, though the judge acknowledged that it might not be feasible.
“Given the current devastated level of services at LICH, it will be difficult to reach the goal of full services by Sept. 11, 2013, but a fully operational emergency department, [intensive care unit,] and ambulance service must be achieved by that date,” she wrote in her order.
The state only has control of the hospital while doctors look for another operator, thanks to an earlier, bombshell ruling by Demarest that accused state officials of taking over with the intention of shutting the hospital down and selling off the valuable land it sits on. The property boasts views of New York Harbor and experts value it at more than $500 million. The state also owes money borrowed from the hospital’s $140-million Othmer Endowment Fund, which state managers say they will have a hard time paying now that they cannot pawn off hospital buildings at will. Demarest has demanded the state pay back the money and provide a full accounting of how it spent hospital money.
Also this week, Judge Johnny Lee Baynes appointed a second ombudsman to watch for state malfeasance at the hospital and report it to the court.
Long Island College Hospital opened in 1858 as the first teaching hospital in Brooklyn and its ambulance service, begun in 1873, was also the borough’s first.