Cobble Hill

Amidst protests, NYU Langone takes over health center at LICH

October 31, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NYU Langone took over LICH emergency department on Friday. Photo by Mary Frost

Brooklyn site renamed ‘NYU Langone-Cobble Hill’

NYU Langone Medical Center reopened a walk-in emergency department at the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Brooklyn early Friday morning under a new name: “NYU Langone-Cobble Hill.”

Inside the refurbished facility, NYU Langone staff familiarized themselves with computer systems and made up observation beds.

Outside, protesters chanted, cried and hugged long-time LICH nurses and healthcare workers as they streamed out of the emergency room doors at the end of their final shift.

SUNY Downstate had been operating the walk-in clinic, but received permission from the state on Oct. 28 to turn it over to NYU as part of the sale of the hospital complex.

The facility will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but the hospital remains closed and will be turned into condos by Fortis Property Group.

Dr. Robert Femia, vice chair of clinical operations for emergency medicine at NYU Langone, said the facility expects 25 to 50 visitors a day, and is staffed with roughly 100 workers “including Langone doctors along with other board-certified physicians and emergency medicine nurses.”

NYU is working with the Department of Health and FDNY on returning ambulance service, Femia said. “We anticipate it will begin over the next few weeks.” Ambulances would come back gradually, he said. “Certain sets of patients with certain complaints.”

NYU Langone terms the walk-in site the “interim” location. A permanent, larger medical facility, which would include a “freestanding ER,” outpatient ambulatory surgery, doctors’ offices, labs and a cancer center is expected to be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

The sale of the 156-year-old hospital has been fought by Brooklyn community groups, officials and staff for almost two years. Pockets of litigation continue, and questions remain about SUNY’s repayment of LICH’s $140 million Othmer Endowment, an obligation SUNY took on when it acquired LICH with no cash outlay.

Advocacy groups maintain that the sale of the hospital is shortsighted, as northwest Brooklyn’s exploding population requires a full-service hospital, not a freestanding ER. The RFP process eventually won by Fortis “appeared rigged,” officials have said.

The state maintains that Brooklyn must move to a health care model that involves fewer hospitals and more primary and urgent care centers.

But critics worry that a “freestanding” ER, without the support of facilities and services provided on-site by a full-service hospital, will lead to more complications and deaths.

“I’m angry and disappointed,” said Deborah Bingham, RN, a member of the group Patients for LICH. “We really need a full-service hospital. This facility is not adequate for the community’s needs.”

Bingham said that critical cases would require transport from the NYU Langone facility to another hospital, “wasting precious moments. People will die.”

“It’s a very sad and surreal day,” said Jeannie Segall, a respiratory therapist at LICH. “I’ve worked at LICH for 24 years. Overnight, it’s goodbye.”

Dr. Femia said NYU was “proud to bring the same level of care here that we have in Manhattan — the level of care I feel good about bringing my own family to.”

He said the department would be able to handle serious events like heart attacks and strokes.

In the case of a stroke, for example, “We would diagnose it and start clot-busting drugs, which would stop the stroke.” Once stabilized, patients would be transferred to other hospitals in Brooklyn or to NYU Langone in Manhattan via one of the two ambulances always on site, he said.

As NYU Langone staff unveiled the purple NYU-branded signs outside the facility, protestors swooped in front of the cameras chanting that selling LICH to a developer was a criminal act perpetrated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s fitting that LICH is closing for good on Halloween,” said Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association. “The Lord High Vampire Andrew Cuomo asserts his supremacy over our health care.”