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Stumped! Judge orders ambulances back at LICH by Tuesday but state says it can’t think that far ahead

Advocate: Mayoral hopeful Bill DeBlasio filed a motion on Friday demanding public input for the future of the hospital and protection of hospital records while it sits in limbo. The public advocate waded into the controversy earlier this summer on the side of hospital staffers who want to keep the hospital open, going so far as to get arrested at a street protest.
File photo by Paul Martinka

The state has not quite let go of Long Island College Hospital and the judge who ordered it out of state hands wants ambulance service restored before Tuesday, but the rebuked owners refuse to say whether they will comply.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Demarest made the order last Wednesday and several media outlets have reported the post–Labor Day reopening of the embattled hospital’s emergency room as fact, but the State University of New York, which has been trying to close the hospital since February, is cagey about whether it will actually happen.

“Do you know what you’re going to eat for lunch next Tuesday?” university spokesman Robert Bellafiore retorted when asked if ambulances will be back on Tuesday. “That’s like saying that [New York Yankees owner George] Steinbrenner ordered the Yankees to win the World Series and so they will.”

Demarest had previously ordered the university to restore ambulance service, the intesive care unit, and the full emergency department by Aug. 26, but she extended that deadline to 2:30 pm on Sept. 3 after hospital doctors told her they were not adequately staffed to reopen their doors.

The state is “working in good faith with all the judges to settle all the issues surrounding Long Island College Hospital,” according to Bellafiore, but he would not say whether any steps have been taken towards reopening.

The state also owes the hospital money that it says it is going to have a hard time repaying now that the valuable Cobble Hill real estate the 155-year-old institution sits on cannot be sold.

In her latest order, Demarest demanded that the state pay back the cash it borrowed from the Othmer Endowment Fund, the $140 million piggybank that the state spent most of, though the fund was meant to earn interest that would help the medical center run forever.

The state only has control of the hospital while doctors look for another operator, thanks to an earlier, bombshell ruling by Demarest that accused state officials of taking over with the intention of shutting the hospital down and selling off the valuable land it sits on.

Which is exactly how the state says it was planning to pay its debt. Demarest did not specify a deadline for the state to replenish the fund but, stripped of a potential $500-million-dollar payday from closing and selling the hospital, the state may plead poverty when the issue is pressed.

The state first diverted ambulances from the hospital in June, which another judge ruled illegal. The state appealed that ruling and has kept the emergency room closed.

Hospital staffers fighting the closure have gotten a hand in recent months from public advocate and Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill DeBlasio. On Friday, DeBlasio filed a “motion to intervene” in the heated case, asking a judge to let community members have a say in who will next run the hospital and calling for a plan to protect medical records and other hospital property from potential exploitation or theft.

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

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