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State restores ambulances to LICH, but staffers ask, ‘Why did they ban them in the first place?’

With staff facing unemployment and flagging morale as the state pushes to shutter Long Island College Hospital, supporters hope to boost moods through yoga and zumba classes.

Ambulances returned to Long Island College Hospital at 4 pm on Friday after being banished for two days, according to the fire department, which dispatches emergency vehicles, but hospital staffers aren’t forgiving the state just yet.

The State University of New York ordered an ambulance ban at the beleaguered Cobble Hill institution on Wednesday, claiming that the place is short on specialist doctors, but workers there say that is nonsense.

“That’s just a red herring,” said Susan Shanahan, a staff medical and surgical nurse. “It’s once again just some BS claim that they’re making when in reality not much has changed in the last few months with regard to staffing.”

The state, which manages the hospital and has been trying to close it since February, was already facing a contempt of court hearing on Nov. 18 for exactly this kind of move when it barred emergency vehicles again on Nov. 6. The contempt hearing stems from a court order by Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Johnny Lee Baynes that demands the university restore services to the levels they were at on July 19, when the state first diverted ambulances as part of a move to close the medical facility for good. Since then, the state has placed 650 hospital staffers on paid administrative leave, stopped surgeries, and, at one point, surrounded the hospital with security guards, moves hospital advocates say are all clearly illegal.

A ruling against the state could result in fines or, technically, jail time for state officials.Despite the mandate, officials say that staffing levels at the hospital left them with no choice but to stop admitting ambulances and new patients.

“It was the medical judgment of the doctors responsible for patient safety and wellbeing that it was not safe to accept ambulances,” state spokesman David Doyle said. “Additional resources were brought in as quickly as possible to remedy the situation.”

Doyle refused to say how the number of doctors on duty became dangerously low on the state’s watch.

Patients can now be admitted through the emergency room again, but the health care center still is not accepting sick people who require more than basic life support, as has been its policy for months since the state removed medical residents. Ambulances carrying patients requiring more serious life support are being diverted to other hospitals, such as New York Methodist Hospital in Park Slope.

The state’s previous court-order-defying ambulance diversions have lasted weeks, not days, and Shanahan says she knows why.

“The fear on their part of the upcoming contempt hearing was the reason,” she said.

The hospital has accepted many new patients since its lowest service level in late July, when as few as 10 patients had beds there. Now, about 30 patients are staying on the fifth floor, where Shanahan works, according to her. The state would not provide the total number of inpatients.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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