The Fire Department’s decision to stop allowing ambulances from Victory Memorial Hospital to respond to 911 calls as of April 1 — a decision that the beleaguered hospital claimed put patients at risk — was made largely because of the medical center’s inability to keep its own emergency vehicles on the road, a high-level FDNY chief told The Brooklyn Paper.
“Victory is obligated to keep three ambulances on the road, and for the most part they weren’t very consistent,” said FDNY Chief John Peruggia. “In emergency situations, this put everyone at an obvious risk.”
The Fire Department replaced the three “inconsistent” ambulances with three that are fully functioning, two run by the Fire Department and a third run by Lutheran Medical Center. All three are kept at strategic locations throughout southwest Brooklyn, giving residents more care, and not less as Victory alleged, according to Peruggia.
“It is going to be run efficiently and without bias,” said Peruggia. “But it is important that everyone know that Victory Hospital’s emergency room is still open and that our ambulances will be bringing patients there for care.”
The decision to pull Victory off the “call list” — which allows an individual hospital to send its ambulance to a 911 call — should not have come as a surprise to officials, according to an FDNY source.
Victory spokesman Ronald DeFranco told The Brooklyn Paper last week that pulling the medical center off the call list was “premature to say the least,” and could be the blow that flat-lined Victory.
FDNY spokeswoman Eileen Ramos took issue with Victory’s contention that removing the struggling hospital from the call list would result in slower ambulatory response times for residents.
“I am not real sure how anyone could come to the conclusion that more consistent ambulances on the road would result in a slower response time,” said Ramos.
The average city response time for a patient who calls 911 is six to seven minutes.
Bill Guarinello, the acting chair of the Dyker Height’s hospital’s board of trustees, admitted that there were problems in the past with keeping the ambulances on the road, but believes that it would be in everyone’s best interest to give the new management at Victory — which is in bankruptcy — a fresh start.
“I am not going to pull any punches, there was mismanagement,” Guarinello said. “Today the board is instilling accountability and credibility to this hospital and we deserve a clean slate.”
Local emergency rooms across southwest Brooklyn are at full capacity, and forced to turn away patients who are then often sent to Victory, according to Guarinello.
“No one want to talk about this,” Guarinello said. “If next year there is no emergency room [at Victory], then the people who are now waiting for three hours for emergency care — some of them will be dead.”
But a spokesman for Lutheran Medical Center disputes Guarinello’s claim that its emergency room is overflowing
“We recently enlarged our emergency room by 60 percent and most patients are seen within 15 minutes,” said spokesman Neal Gorman. “We even have 30-beds in reserve in case we need them.”
Gorman says that if Victory closed, Lutheran would in fact be able to absorb the new patients.
“We have the room now and we are looking to grow, so the answer is yes, Lutheran would be fine,” he said.
But Eileen Tynion, a spokeswoman for Maimonides Medical Center, said that losing the extra emergency room could stress the system.
“If Victory’s ER closes, it will be difficult to handle the increased volume,” she said. “Later this summer, we will open 7,500 square feet of new ER space and add more inpatient beds. This will increase our ability to take care of patients, but we expect these beds to quickly be filled.”
A state report last year recommended Victory’s close. Still, the medical center is a vital cog in the neighborhood’s emergency medical machine. The center’s emergency room is at 104 percent capacity, according to Guarinello.
The 254-bed hospital declared bankruptcy in November amid scrutiny of the hospital’s compensation practices, which included a $1.1-million severance for departing CEO Donald DiCunto.
New management is in place, but an FDNY spokesman said the recommended closure is only a matter of time.
“People may not want to admit it,” Ramos said. “But the truth is that at some point Victory Memorial will be closing.”
Guarinello took issue with those words. The emergency room is fully equipped and prepared to assist residents who they are most in need, he said.
“If the EMS keeps their word and Victory is kept in the loop then I think we will be alright,” Guarinello said. “But if we stop getting patients it will be a disaster for this community.”
Last week’s story incorrectly suggested that the FDNY would not send ambulances to Victory Memorial Hospital (“FDNY slash puts Victory on life support,” March 31). The FDNY will continue to send ambulances to the hospital. But as of April 1, the hospital will no longer be able to respond directly to 911 calls, the FDNY said.