State says its second LICH ambulance ban will be lifted today

The State University of New York said it did not end ambulance service at Long Island College Hospital on Wednesday night and throughout Thursday — it just gave it a break.

The university, which operates the hospital and has been trying to close it since February, is forbidden by a court order from stopping ambulance service to the 155-year-old Cobble Hill institution, but on Wednesday night it did just that. A spokesman for the state said that it was forced to turn away emergency vehicles because of a lack of available doctors but will restore service today “as long as the facility is adequately staffed.”

“Last night, because of a shortage of medical specialists, measures were taken in conjunction with [the fire department] to ensure that Long Island College Hospital did not receive patients beyond its capabilities,” said spokesman David Doyle.

But workers trying to save the hospital from being closed say that the state is acting criminally in violation of 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 clearly illegal.

“From our perspective it’s a very clear violation of the order, and we’re doing everything to address it immediately,” said Eliza Bates, a spokeswoman for the New York State Nurses Association. Bates declined to elaborate on what action the nurses union is taking.

Baynes has scheduled a contempt hearing for Nov. 18 and a ruling against the state could result in fines or, technically, jail time for officials.

The governor-appointee-run university restored ambulance service on Aug. 20 after a dramatic ruling by Brookyln Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Demarest that was supposed to strip the hospital from state hands but so far has failed to entice a willing replacement to operate the hobbled institution. The state’s argument for again barring ambulances on the basis of patient safety echoes the one officials made when they first moved to pull the plug, though legal documents later revealed that selling the real estate beneath it — valued at as much as $500-million — went into the decision.

Opponents of the closure have long said that the state is trying to cash in on the property that boasts views of the Statue of Liberty by selling it to luxury developers.

Mayor-elect Bill DeBlasio has been a prominent voice in the anti-closure effort in his role as public advocate. DeBlasio is in Puerto Rico to hobnob with other politicians and recuperate after his Tuesday election win, but activists told the Brooklyn Eagle they are talking to his legal team about how to challenge the state’s surprise move.

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