By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper
The FDNY will no longer send emergency ambulances to Victory Memorial Hospital — a decision that could doom the beleaguered hospital, days after local pols crowed that they had saved the troubled medical center’s emergency room.
The surprising move goes into effect on April 1, and means that all 911 calls coming from Southwest Brooklyn on routes previously directed to Victory will now be routed either to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park or Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.
The announcement raised the blood pressure of local officials who are questioning the sanity of taking Victory’s three ambulances off the road while Southwest Brooklyn emergency rooms are already at full capacity.
“This is insane,” said Councilman Vince Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), “Victory still has a working emergency room, certified EMTs, and working ambulances, and until that changes, I do not see why they cannot still provide ambulance service to Southwest Brooklyn.”
Bill Guarinello, the acting chair of the Dyker Heights hospital’s board of trustees, told The Brooklyn Paper on March 17 that local officials would soon be announcing that the medical center had found a partner to save its busy emergency room — but that announcement never came.
“We are still in the process of looking for a partner and we have a couple of people at the table,” said hospital spokesman Ronald DeFranco. “Obviously, this move takes one of our bargaining chips off the table.”
DeFranco called the decision to pull Victory off the 911 call list “premature to say the least,” and isn’t sure the hospital will be able to survive the blow.
“At least 75 percent of our admissions are through the emergency room,” DeFranco said. “We know for a fact that that number will go down. We just don’t know how much.”
Ambulances from competing hospitals are avoiding Victory, sometimes even if it is closer and the patient requests it, according to DeFranco.
“It is called pirating and we have received several complaints,” he said. “Patients who are requesting our hospital are being told that Victory is closed and then taken to our competition.”
With Victory’s fleet of ambulances on the sidelines, another concern is that response times could be slower during emergencies, which could have deadly consequences.
“Patients who live in an area like 18th Avenue and 86th Street could face an additional four minutes to get to their emergency room,” said Ron Fedele, president of the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service, which itself is trying to overcome financial hardships that have kept their ambulances off the road.
“Four minutes could mean the difference between life and death.”
The average city response time for a patient who calls 911 is six to seven minutes.
Fedele says he wasn’t surprised by the announcement, and believes it is part of a larger plan to close the hospital completely.
“The hospital is being closed and they are taking it apart piece, by piece,” Fedele said.
Gentile is not giving up on Victory. This week, he demanded that FDNY Chief John Peruggia reverse “the ill-advised decision” to end Victory Memorial Hospital as an ambulance destination.
Peruggia was unavailable for comment.
Despite a state report last year that recommended Victory’s closure, Victory is still a vital cog in the neighborhood’s emergency medical machine. The center’s emergency room is at 104 percent capacity.
The 254-bed hospital declared bankruptcy last November amid scrutiny of the hospital’s compensation practices, which included a $1.1-million severance package for departing CEO Donald DiCunto.
New management is in place, but Fedele believes the new team was doomed from the start.
“They have phenomenal management in place now,” Fedele said. “But it looks like they came too late.”
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