Hills & Gardens: Changes for LICH Emergency Staff

Dr. Michael Lucchesi heads the SUNY Downstate and LICH emergency departments.

By Trudy Whitman

Some years ago I awoke from a routine colonoscopy at Long Island College Hospital to find the head of its public affairs department standing over me with a cup of juice. I recall thinking at the time that I must know the right people. But it turned out the administrator wasn’t there to hand me my juice; she had come to tell me that my husband had been brought to the emergency department in need of an appendectomy — an immediate appendectomy.

This was his second visit to the ED. A few years before, convulsed in back pain and on the floor unable to move, he was strapped onto a litter by two LICH EMTs and carried from the top floor of a brownstone to a waiting ambulance. Then it was off again to the ED.

My husband was recovering from the first of these incidents when our daughter, who had celebrated her birthday a little too exuberantly, also had need of LICH’s emergency department. She was treated with intravenous fluids and soon was back on her feet.

Everyone wants to stay away from hospitals, but when they’re imperative, it’s invaluable to have one right around the corner.

LICH’s survival was in doubt for a while, but the hospital’s divorce from Continuum Health Partners and subsequent marriage to SUNY Downstate on May 29, 2011, has allowed it to continue serving the community with its obstetric and pediatric departments intact. The hospital is now known formally as University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital, although administrators promise a more manageable moniker soon.

Dr. Tucker Woods served — professionally and loyally by all accounts — as the chief of LICH’s emergency department for over 12 years. I could always count on Dr. Woods’s accessibility and patience, even when reporting during extraordinarily trying periods like the 2009 swine flu epidemic. But when big changes occur, smaller ones invariably follow, and Dr. Woods has left LICH to pursue his specialty at Lutheran Medical Center.

Dr. Michael Lucchesi is now chair of the departments of emergency medicine at both LICH and SUNY Downstate.

Dr. Lucchesi, who is board certified in both internal and emergency medicine, currently divides his time between the two health care facilities while a search for Dr. Woods’s replacement ensues. The brouhaha over LICH’s split from Continuum and the threat of closure of the obstetrics and pediatrics departments did damage, Dr. Lucchesi admitted during a telephone interview. The LICH ED is currently logging about 57,000 visits per year, down from an annual 68 -70,000 patient range five years ago. Of course, fewer ED visits also translate to fewer admissions to the hospital.

“The potential to increase to full volume is something that we’re really working on,” Dr. Lucchesi stressed. The strength of LICH’s ED is, without a doubt, its staff, Dr. Lucchesi continued. He is indebted, he said, to the nurses, EMTs, and paramedics who “stuck it out” through the fear of potential closure. Dr. Caitlin Jones, who heads the main ER, and Dr. Sunil Sachdeva, who is in charge of the pediatrics ER, also remain department stalwarts.

The emergency department did, however, lose a number of other physicians during that uncertain period. Emergency medicine doctors are peripatetic types, whose lack of a patient base allows them to practice in different areas of the country. And the naturally occurring turnover among these specialists was heightened at LICH by its uncertain future. SUNY Downstate doctors have been filling in to keep the ED running smoothly, Dr. Lucchesi noted, and some may opt for permanent positions at the Cobble Hill hospital.

In addition, Downstate’s residency program in emergency medicine has been extended to include the LICH site. Dr. Lucchesi called this initiative a “great recruiting tool,” adding that Downstate has “one of the strongest and most competitive residency training programs in the country.” Medical residents who experience the LICH ED and the stable, family-oriented neighborhood in which it is situated will surely be tempted to stay, he suggested.

Because the Brooklyn neighborhoods that surround the hospital are havens for young families, Dr. Lucchesi finds it “upsetting” that LICH’s pediatric ED, staffed by specialists in pediatric emergency care, is seeing fewer patients these days. It is his special mission to restore faith in that department. “We are open and working hard to make improvements,” he said. “There is no reason that children should have to go further than their own communities to get excellent pediatric emergency care.”

To “meet” Dr. Michael Lucchesi electronically, go towww.downstate.edu/lich/news.html. There you will find a cable channel interview with the doctor in which he discusses fever.

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