Officials temporarily diverted ambulances from Brooklyn's LICH because the hospital was understaffed Wednesday, but service may return to normal as soon as Friday. Credit: Chris Morgan via Flickr
Julie Semente, a registered nurse, was working in Long Island College Hospital's Intensive Care Unit on Wednesday night when the emergency room told staff at the Brooklyn hospital would no longer accept ambulances.
"We were very busy providing services and trying to do our work," said Semente, who has worked at LICH for 30 years. "It just shows that we are still fighting for our hospital and these communities."
While officials say the ambulance diversion will be temporary — and could end as soon as Friday — the action is particularly troublesome to staffers and the community after a months-long fight between hospital administrators and staff.
For months workers, community leaders and politicians like Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio have fought against SUNY Downstate Medical Center's moves to close the beleaguered hospital.
Ambulances have been diverted from the facility before, but Wednesday's action comes after a September court ruling halting SUNY's plans cease operations there. The ruling was upheld in October.
A shortage of medical specialists forced the most recent diversion, explained SUNY Director of Communications David Doyle.
On Thursday, attorneys for members of the Save LICH Coalition, including the New York State Nurses Association, along with representation from the public advocate's office, met with SUNY officials.
SUNY is mustering resources from other facilities to staff the hospital, with the hopes of resuming basic life support ambulances Friday, Doyle said.
Even so, Semente said each of these actions are little battles in a longer war. The hospital serves roughly 75,000 residents in Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights.
"At this point if you walk in the hospital they'll see you, and if you need to be admitted you get a ride to the next hospital," Semente said. "That's outrageous."
Hospital officials must approve any patients before admittance. Ambulances are only transporting basic cases to LICH.
"Because of the continuing absence of the appropriate medical personnel, at no time have we been accepting the most serious medical cases by ambulance," Doyle said. "Those patients are urged to seek care at other facilities and will continue to be transferred in the interest of their safety and welfare."
Before the pledged resumption of ambulance service, Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin said in a statement that SUNY was determined to shut down the hospital.
"They know what they are doing is wrong and will hurt the community, which explains why they are acting in the dead of the night to shut down LICH," he said.
Semente said the fight isn't over.
"We're not handing over our hospital that is so desperately needed," she said.