Judge: LICH leadership breaking law by closing ER to ambulances

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State officials broke the law when they shut down the emergency room to ambulances at Long Island College Hospital, says the judge who demanded the money-bleeding hospital continue to service the community.

The state is in contempt of a temporary restraining order prohibiting the closure of the hospital, said borough Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes in court on Wednesday when a hospital employee informed him of plans for the emergency room. The emergency room stopped accepting ambulances on Thursday despite the ruling.

This action by the state-run hospital could result in a fine or imprisonment for State University of New York administrators, according to Baynes, who modified his restraining order on Wednesday, demanding that the hospital maintain staffing at the hospital to the level it was in February, just before talks of its sale and closure went public.

Baynes has scheduled a conference with lawyers handling the suit on June 24.

Hospital officials wouldn’t comment on whether the change at the emergency room defies the court order, but claimed the move was necessary because the hospital doesn’t have the staffing to handle the patients.

“The chief medical officer of all our hospitals has determined that patient care and safety cannot be ensured by continuing to send patients to that hospital,” said hospital spokesman Robert Bellafiore.

Bellafiore claimed that many doctors left the institution after the State University of New York first announced its plan to close the hospital in February. Since that time, however, the state had reversed itself, instead trying to find a potential buyer to take over the institution. This reversal was partially the result of hospital advocates’s legal efforts, including the lawsuit that prompted the restraining order.

Bellafiore wouldn’t say how many doctors and nurses have resigned in the past few months, but the hospital’s chief medical officer said that there are resignations almost daily.

“We have seen voluntary resignations from the hospital’s medical director, pharmacy department supervisors, the emergency room 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,” said Dr. Michael Lucchesi.

The court will convene to hear the State University of New York’s case for diverting the ambulances on July 15 at the Adams Street Courthouse, according to Wednesday’s modified restraining order.

A request for comment from Governor Cuomo, who appoints the State University leadership, was not returned by press time. But other elected officials, including Borough President Markowitz, said that the State University’s actions clearly broke the judge’s ruling.

It’s not the first time hospital management has broken the law. In March, Baynes ruled that leadership illegally held a secret meeting the day before it decided to close the money-losing Long Island College Hospital.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.