LICH-ing on borrowed time: Judge orders state to restore hospital services

Nurses: LICH will be closed by Sunday
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Stop or I’ll tell you to stop again!

That is what a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge said Friday when, rather than ruling on whether the state has violated court orders mandating that it maintain services at Long Island College Hospital, he ordered the state to bring back those same services. The order says that the State University of New York, which wants to close the Cobble Hill hospital, must restore the service to how it was on July 19, the day the state health department approved the closure plan. But maintaining the July 19 service levels is the exact thing required by a temporary restraining order that came out of a lawsuit by hospital nurses. Since late July, the state has placed 650 hospital staffers on paid administrative leave, stopped surgeries, and surrounded the hospital with security guards, moves hospital advocates say are clearly illegal.

“Once again, the court has ruled that SUNY must stop creating chaos for Brooklyn patients and must keep LICH open for care,” said Jill Furillo, the executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, which wants to keep the hospital open. “SUNY has violated every single court order that they have received up until now.”

The latest ruling orders the state to remove all of the security guards except those “required for crowd control,” to fix equipment, and to restore staffing. The order also says the state must give doctors final say on what is best for patients, a response to claims that the state transferred patients out of the hospital against doctors’ wishes.

Rather than enforcing this and previous court orders with contempt rulings and fines, Judge Johnny Lee Baynes said he will appoint an “ombudsman” to oversee the hospital and take reports of service changes.

The court order is apparently toothless, as the ombudsman lacks enforcement power and the order allows the state’s chief medical officer to break the rules if he decides that patients are at risk, which the state has already used as a justification for diverting ambulances from the Cobble Hill emergency room. Despite the Gov. Cuomo–controlled university’s track record of disregarding court orders, a representative of the university said that it will abide by the latest ruling.

“As always, patient health and safety will remain our most important concern,” university spokesman Robert Bellafiore said.

Judge Baynes delivered the ruling to buy time while state lawyers negotiate with attorneys for hospital advocates in private about the fate of the 155-year-old health care facility.

The latest court order will remain in effect until the judge makes a new ruling or both sides reach a settlement.

The hospital sits on a patch of prime Cobble Hill real estate with views of the New York Harbor and, if the closure goes through, the state could pawn it off to apartment developers for more than $500 million.

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