Emergency fume! LICH advocates say ‘ER’ is just a clinic

Court’s LICH watchdog goes rogue, calling state handling of hospital ‘evil,’ ‘arrogant’
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Long Island College Hospital is a ghost of its former self.

The shell of the Cobble Hill institution is supposed to continue taking emergency-room walk-ins after a settlement reached in court last week, but anti-hospital-closure advocates say an emergency room with no attached hospital is little more than a glorified walk-in clinic.

“At this point, all that’s left is urgent care,” said Jeannie Segall, a respiratory therapist who was laid off from the hospital.

Urgent care centers differ from emergency departments in what services they offer and how many hours they are open. The centers do not operate continuously the way emergency departments do, are not required to keep a licensed physician on hand, and cannot treat patients with serious conditions such as heart attacks, poisoning, and life- or limb-threatening injuries, according to the attorney general’s office.

A full-service emergency department would have to include an intensive-care unit, a surgical team, a maternity unit, a pediatrics unit, and hospital beds, said Jon Berall, a physician and, during the yearlong legal battle that failed to stop the closure of the 156-year-old hospital, a court watchdog tasked with scrutinizing whether the state was taking steps to reduce medical services.

The State University of New York shuttered all of the Cobble Hill hospital except for the emergency room last Thursday night and was allowed to stop running that department as of Wednesday and leave emergency operations to developer The Peebles Group’s medical partner North Shore–LIJ, a Long Island hospital system. The arrangement came out of a court agreement struck between the state and community groups that wanted the former medical center to remain open for care. Peebles is negotiating to build housing on the Cobble Hill medical campus that boasts harbor views and is valued at as much as $500 million. Peebles wants to pay $260 million for the property and Peebles head Don Peebles has political ties to State University of New York chariman H. Carl McCall, as Crain’s New York Business first reported.

The former hospital is not accepting new patients and a State University of New York spokesman said the last three patients at the hospital were removed to other area hospitals by May 23.

There may be no surgical services at the site, either. An operating-room nurse who had worked in the hospital since 1975 said he was reassigned to the intensive-care unit after operations ceased months ago.

The state barred ambulances from the future luxury apartment site earlier this month, but North Shore–LIJ is supposed to bring them back by July 15, according to the terms of the legal deal.

The court settlement mandates further that Peebles and North Shore–LIJ must “diligently undertake all steps necessary to transition to a fully functioning emergency department with ambulance service to be operated by North Shore–LIJ under the license of one of its hospitals.” But the settlement does not outline what a “fully functioning emergency department” would look like, nor did representatives from North Shore–LIJ say what services such a department would offer.

The state was still running the emergency room as of Tuesday evening, a state spokesman said.

Assuming the emergency department stays open, without the attendant services such a department requires, calling it an emergency room is no more than a public-relations stunt, Berall said.

“The emergency room is a joke,” he said. “It’s a way for condos to be built where a hospital stands.”

Gov. Cuomo, who controls the State University of New York, had not at press time responded to 13 consecutive days of comment requests.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.