Emergency room crisis hits Brooklyn as SUNY bans ambulances from LICH
Nurse: ‘God forbid there’s a collision on the BQE’
“If you live in western Brooklyn, don’t have a heart attack,” residents of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Red Hook and DUMBO heard Thursday as they learned that SUNY Downstate banned ambulances from bringing patients to Long Island College Hospital’s (LICH) emergency room.
Paramedics told the Brooklyn Eagle that they had orders to deliver patients to either Methodist Hospital in Park Slope or SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital of Brooklyn in East Flatbush.
“Depending on traffic that might add ten minutes, maybe more,” one EMT told this reporter. “When you have a heart attack, time matters.”
According to Google Maps, which tracks current traffic conditions, the ride to SUNY Downstate from Fairway Market in Red Hook would take 30 minutes, as of 3 p.m. on Thursday. The same trip to LICH would take 8 minutes.
Despite being barred from bringing patients to LICH, EMTs must restock their supplies from LICH’s supply rooms.
SUNY Downstate closed the ER to ambulances in spite of a revised court order issued Wednesday by Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes. In April, Baynes issued a restraining order barring action by SUNY to shut down LICH.
On Wednesday, Judge Baynes ordered Downstate to maintain LICH’s staffing levels at the levels they were in February, 2013, after hearing that SUNY intended to pull out crucial residents and medical fellows this weekend.
“In spite of the court order issued by Judge Baynes, SUNY posted signs yesterday –- while they were still in court –- notifying the public that ambulances would be diverted to other facilities,” Maribel Agosto, medical surgical nurse at LICH, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday.
“SUNY created an emergency situation in Downtown Brooklyn. Without notice, they have created an emergency service shortage,” she said. “God forbid there’s a collision on the highway [BQE] or a problem among the thousands of Brooklyn Bridge Park visitors over the weekend.”
SUNY posted a notice inside LICH saying that the ER would not be accepting patients by ambulance due to “the resignation of critical staff.” Walk-in patients will be screened and stabilized, then transferred to other hospitals if further medical care is needed.
Late Thursday, Dr. Michael Lucchesi, Chief Medical Officer at SUNY Downstate and LICH, said in a statement, “Nothing is more important than preserving care, safety and welfare for every patient who comes through our doors.
“A dire situation is developing at LICH where we have seen voluntary resignations from the hospital’s medical director, Pharmacy Department supervisors, the ER nurse manager, and our Chief Nursing Officer and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer, as well as many other attending physicians and key personnel in Information Technology and other essential support areas. We have almost daily resignations. Thus, ambulances will be diverted from LICH’s Emergency Department by the FDNY and patients from critical care units (ICU and CCU) will be transferred to other hospitals, and for the foreseeable future, no further patients will be admitted to those units.”
Doctors, nurses and other LICH staff members, however, say that plenty of personnel are on hand to handle medical needs, and any supposed shortages are being artificially created by SUNY.
“SUNY is not telling the truth about staff levels here. We have not had a mass exodus as they claim,” Agosto said. “Yesterday Judge Baynes ordered them to maintain staffing levels as they were in February 2013. If at any time SUNY thought there would not be adequate staff, they should have put the appropriate staff in place. They have relations with medical staffing agencies. People are willing to work today,” she said.
“Very few nurses have left LICH since this whole fiasco began 6 months ago,” said Jill Furillo, RN executive director of the NYS Nurses Association. “And the positions those few nurses vacated have already been filled by qualified temporary nurses. The emergency room nurse manager did leave; however there is a qualified candidate ready and willing to take the job but Downstate won’t fill the position.”
Douglas Wilburn, a Pharmacy Secretary at LICH, said SUNY was trying to scare patients and staff away from the hospital to force it to close. “They shut down the residency program in spite of the judge’s order. They say we can’t use Locum Tenoms, the employment agency we use if we’re low on doctors. They want the place to go down; they’re only interested in real estate.”
“Look at that traffic on the BQE,” said Jose Delacruz, a mailroom clerk at LICH. “If someone has a heart attack they’ll die before they get halfway to Downstate.”
SUNY Downstate spokesperson Robert Bellafiore responded to these claims late Thursday. “Dozens of doctors have left LICH voluntarily, including the Chief Medical Officer at LICH. They all left on their own. To say this situation is manufactured is a canard. SUNY Downstate has done everything they can to backfill positions, but not many people are interested working on a per diem or temporary basis.
“The Chief Medical Officer’s primary responsibility is patient care and welfare,” he said. “Even with SUNY Downstate’s best efforts they haven’t been able to recruit to the SUNY Downstate level of expertise. You can’t just hire anybody with a stethoscope around their neck.”
Bellafiore said that SUNY Downstate had the judge’s decision “under review.”
According to Dr. Toomas M. Sorra, spokesperson for the Concerned Physicians of LICH, Judge Bates is considering appointing a special administrator for LICH. “The judge wants the names of potential administrators other than SUNY by 5 p.m. today,” he told the Eagle on Thursday.
Judge Baynes has reportedly set a conference with lawyers from both sides for Monday to review status of compliance.
Baynes has also scheduled a hearing on contempt for July 15th. Defendants in the case include the SUNY Board of Trustees, as well as SUNY, SUNY Downstate and SUNY Downstate President John F. Williams, MD.
Updated on June 20 at 6:23 p.m. with quotes from SUNY Downstate CMO Dr. Michael Lucchesi and SUNY Downstate spokesperson Robert Bellafiore.
Update on July 3 to change phrase “ambulance driver” to EMT.