By LAURA KUSISTO and ALISON FOX
Staff and community members protested Sunday a decision by state-university officials to divert ambulances away from Long Island College Hospital, the only hospital in downtown Brooklyn, to other facilities in the borough.
Officials with SUNY Downstate Medical Center announced earlier this week that ambulances are not being sent to the hospital and no new patients are being admitted because they say significant numbers of doctors, nurses and support staff have left voluntarily.
More than a dozen nurses, doctors and area residents stood outside the emergency room Sunday, saying the hospital is adequately staffed and that sending patients elsewhere could put them at medical risk.
Alice Garner, chief of Newborn Medicine at LICH, said her department is fully staffed, with about 10 babies in their care. Dr. Garner said she is most worried about pregnant women being sent to hospitals that might be further away. "A mother and baby could die over foolishness," she said.
A LICH emergency medical technician, 25-year-old William Medina, said the past few days have been difficult. He said he has seen nearby hospitals, including Brooklyn Hospital and Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, with long wait times and stretched staff.
"It's been rough," he said. "It's taking longer to get there and that's the most concerning thing. Even though the ER [at LICH] is fully staffed...it's empty. They're fully staffed, but it's not doing any good for the community."
Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for SUNY Downstate, said that the hospital has lost both its chief of medicine and head of nursing in recent weeks. Hospital officials decided it was too risky to continue receiving patients without enough staff to care for them, Mr. Greenberg said.
"The key is you can't take in more patients than you have an adequate medical team to take care of them," he said.
University trustees voted in February to close the money-losing hospital in the heart of brownstone Brooklyn, but unions and local community leaders have fought hard in court and during rallies to keep it open.
The hospital was granted a reprieve in April, when officials said they would delay further steps to close the hospital and search for a new operator. They have received several responses to their search, a spokesman said Sunday.
But even as the hospital remains open, it appears to be losing staff members quickly. On Wednesday, a judge ordered the hospital to maintain adequate staffing levels at LICH, including in the emergency department.
LICH nonetheless stopped receiving ambulances Thursday. At a court hearing Friday, the judge, when handed a note by a union attorney about the decision to divert ambulances, said, "If that is the case, that is in violation, in clear violation of my order," according to a transcript.
Mr. Greenberg noted that the judge hasn't made any decision. The parties are expected to go before the judge again Monday, according to the transcript.