State has turned LICH into Fort Knox: advocates

News analysis: If LICH closes, housing towers could rise
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Long Island College Hospital has more security guards than doctors these days and the omnipresent sentries are making the place feel more like a jail than a medical center, hospital advocates say.

The guards are harassing staffers and would-be patients in and around the embattled Cobble Hill institution, according to a doctor who testified in court last week as part of the last-ditch legal fight to save the hospital. Hospital advocates say the intense security presence is an illegal ploy by the state to close the health care facility once and for all.

“I feel intimidated,” Dr. Alice Garner, testified Friday.

Garner, who is head of neonatal care at the 155-year-old institution, said that a room full of babies is no place for men with guns, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Garner testified that only one doctor remains on duty in the emergency room and that guards search her purse whenever she enters, according to the Eagle.

A Brooklyn Paper reporter visiting the hospital Friday saw no guns but did encounter more than a dozen guards patrolling outside and interrogating anyone who tried to enter through the sole unlocked door. The gauntlet of security guards is just one of the ways the state is defying court orders that bar it from taking any more steps to close the hospital, advocates say.

“[The state] has been intentionally and willfully violating court orders,” said Jim Walden, a lawyer for the public advocate’s office arguing at a Thursday hearing. Walden and lawyers for nurses unions blasted the guards and the diversion of ambulances from the hospital’s emergency room in a series of hearings last week, saying that the measures put the state in contempt of court, a violation that is punished by fines or jail.

A lawyer for the State University of New York, which is trying to close the hospital, said on Thursday that the guards are necessary because of anti-closure protests outside the hospital, which he described as “angry mobs in front of LICH.” The state is trying to have both lawsuits thrown out on technical grounds, claiming that the plaintiffs lack legal standing.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes said he could decide whether the state broke the law by this Friday, but that he would prefer it if the two sides reached a peace deal instead.

Also last week, a court struck down the state’s appeal of a temporary restraining order reached by the nurses unions — meaning that the outcome of that case rests in Baynes’s hands.The state has been trying to close the hospital since February over fierce opposition. In court Thursday, Baynes bristled at a state health department claim that the closing process has been orderly.

“To call it even a transition, let alone an orderly transition, strains the meaning of the words,” Baynes said.

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