Cobble Hill

Two ombudsmen appointed at LICH to make sure judge’s orders are followed

Ambulances may be rolling on Friday

September 5, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Two independent physicians are serving as ombudsmen to State Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes to ensure that his orders to keep Long Island College Hospital (LICH) at least partially open are carried out by SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Doctors John Jack Berall and Eric Manheimer will hear from LICH staff and patients and communicate their observations to Judge William C. Thompson, Justice Baynes’ referee on the case.

Dr. Berall, an ER Physician, Internist and resident of Brooklyn, served as the Chief Medical Coordinator of the emergency relief operation following Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Florida in 1992. He attended Harvard School of Public Health and Tufts University School of Medicine.

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Dr. Manheimer, also an Internist, served as Chief Medical Officer at Bellevue Hospital for 15 years. He left Bellevue a year and a half ago and is currently a Clinical Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Department of Medicine. He attended medical school at SUNY Downstate and was on staff at King’s County Hospital in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

On August 17, Justice Baynes ordered the restoration of hospital services, staffing and equipment to the levels that were in place at LICH, in Cobble Hill, on July 19. These include emergency care, the Intensive Care Unit, inpatient medical beds, and laboratory, radiology, social work and pharmacy services, among others.

SUNY, which has been trying to close LICH, dragged its feet carrying out Justice Baynes’ orders, however, leading to the appointment of the ombudsmen.

Public Advocate and mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio, a major force in the fight keep LICH open, recommended Dr. Berall as ombudsman, a recommendation supported by the New York State Nurses Association.  “We support this recommendation because of Dr. Berall’s impressive medical credentials and his commitment to protecting care for Brooklyn patients,” spokesperson Eliza Bates said.

“As I understand the job, the position of ombudsman is essentially to return LICH to where it was on July 19,” Dr. Berall told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, adding that he would “make sure the orders are complied with, and if not, why.”

“There may be good reasons why the service cannot be immediately returned to July 19,” he added.

Justice Baynes ordered the ombudsmen’s contact information — [email protected] — posted “in 36-inch type” at central points around the hospital “so people can be in touch with comments” regarding hospital services, Dr. Berall said.

Nurses said the signs had been posted on Thursday.

“The Emergency Room is open,” Dr. Berall said. “It’s fast, ready and available. Patients are walking in and being treated — 60 patients yesterday, 58 the day before, and 47 the day before that.”

Patients are being admitted to the hospital, but “at a very low volume,” he said. “The hospital is not going full tilt.” There is no surgery at LICH today, he said, though there is a possibility for tomorrow. “Serious cases may require transportation to another hospital. This goes on at all hospitals – serious burns are transferred to the Burn Unit at Cornell; gunshots and knifings to Bellevue.”

Dr. Manheimmer told the Eagle that he was asked by the Department of Health to be an ombudsman. With his background as an administer at Bellevue and with the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), he said he “knows the hospital system in New York. I knew the Continuum people well. [SUNY acquired LICH from Continuum in 2011.] I’m nonpartisan. I’ll report to the judge and be transparent.”

“Downstate people have been open and committed to making the hospital available to us. We went on a significant tour yesterday and met the hospital’s leadership,” Dr. Manheimmer said. “We met Judge Thompson yesterday to go over our relationship.”

Ambulances may return as soon as Thursday at 5 p.m., he added.

Having previously lived in Flatbush and Park Slope, “I’m interested in making sure Brooklyn gets a good shake,” Dr. Manheimmer said.

Dr. Berall told the Eagle late Thursday, “Dr. Manheimer and I agree that the hospital should remain a hospital; acute care and full service… not condos. That would be ‘a good shake for Brooklyn.’

Besides keeping the hospital open, Justice Baynes’ August 17 order also demanded that SUNY remove the scores of armed and unarmed guards that had been posted both inside and outside the hospital (other than those deemed necessary for “crowd control and safety”). By early this week, most of those guards were gone.

This “standstill order” is meant to keep LICH open until discussions between SUNY Downstate and a number of groups working to keep LICH open continue before both Justice Baynes and state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest.

The order came about after litigation before Justice Baynes by Bill de Blasio, New York State Nurses Association, 1199SEIU, Boerum Hill Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Wyckoff Gardens Association, Riverside Tenants’ Association and several patients.

On August 20, in a separate action, Justice Demarest found that SUNY Downstate Medical Center had violated a contractual obligation to keep LICH open and nullified the original sale of LICH to SUNY.

Control of LICH is expected to pass from SUNY to a new, as yet unnamed operator by the end of October.

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