Faith, Community, and Labor Demand that SUNY Downstate Medical Center Remain a Full Service Public Hospital

Health care for 400,000 patients in Brooklyn each year is at risk if plans to compromise care move forward.

ALBANY, NY (01/08/2013)(readMedia)-- Hundreds of workers, community advocates, and members of several faith communities from Brooklyn and throughout the state joined together at a rally at the Legislative Office Building to protect SUNY Downstate Medical Center and maintain the essential health services it delivers to New York City's most populous borough. They also met with Senators, Assemblymembers, and legislative staff earlier in the day to ask for their support in the coming legislative session to keep Downstate as well as the SUNY Health Science Centers in Long Island and Syracuse public.

Superstorm Sandy underscored just how important the full service quality care available at Downstate is to the people of Brooklyn. As Sandy swept through the Metropolitan area forcing the closure of nursing homes and hospitals in Brooklyn, Downstate remained open and provided critical care to patients transferred there with a wide range of needs. Patients on ventilators, medical-surgical patients, and pediatric patients were all sent to Downstate. These full scale services would disappear if proposals to downsize, privatize, and/or convert the hospital to an outpatient facility move forward.

Downstate is not just a medical facility; it is a critical component of the wellbeing of Brooklyn residents, in terms of the delivery of quality health care, education of future medical professionals, maintenance of family sustaining jobs, and the overall economic health of the area.

Downstate provides care to nearly 400,000 patients each year, many of them requiring the specialized inpatient and outpatient treatment only offered at the medical center. In addition, as a state hospital, Downstate must provide treatment to everyone, whether or not they have insurance and regardless of their ability to pay. Cutting vital health care services at Downstate would reduce the quality and accessibility of health care for hundreds of thousands of patients-many of whom are underinsured or uninsured, and many more who are aged or very sick.

The impact on the pipeline for future health care professionals must also be taken into account. Hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are trained at Downstate's schools each year. More Downstate-trained doctors practice medicine in New York City than from any other medical school. One in every three doctors in Brooklyn graduated from SUNY Downstate. More than half of Brooklyn's doctors in certain specialties have been trained at the center.

Reports of a restructuring at Downstate that would result in thousands of job losses are troubling; already hundreds of staff have been told their jobs are slated to be cut. Downstate is an anchor employer, whose economic impact is felt well beyond its walls. Any reduction of services and elimination of jobs at downstate will impact not just those sent to the unemployment line, but will have residual impacts in the surrounding community and on companies that do business with the Medical Center.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, "We have an obligation to take care of the uninsured, underinsured, and those who lack the ability to pay for their care. That is why we have public health care. What's happening at Downstate is just the latest example of the troubling movement away from public hospitals and nursing homes. We cannot in good conscience turn our back on the 400,000 people in Brooklyn who rely on Downstate each year and the dedicated professionals that provide their care."

"As clergy, it is part of our responsibility to make sure that our community has the vital health care services needed to sustain the low-income residents of Central Brooklyn," said Pastor Gilford Monrose of Mt. Zion Church of God, who also serves as president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council.

"What's happening at SUNY Downstate is a thinly veiled attempt to privatize this public hospital, which provides necessary health care services to hundreds of thousands of patients," said UUP president Phillip H. Smith. "If it can happen to Downstate, it can happen to state-operated hospitals across the state. We need to stop this in its tracks."

"As we witnessed during Superstorm Sandy, Downstate Medical Center very literally provides a lifeline to those in need of critical health services," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Our most vulnerable citizens depend on the high-quality care that Downstate provides. The closure of this hospital would only aggravate our economic difficulties by putting several hundred dedicated and professional public employees out of work. Given that Downstate also educates some 1,600 medical students annually, its closure would jeopardize the future of New York's health-care system. We urge the Legislature not only to disregard this short-sighted plan, but to also adequately fund Downstate to ensure delivery of the excellent and cutting-edge care for which it is so well known."

Susan Kent, President of PEF, said, "We as unionists, members of faith-based groups and the community must make sure the vital health services people need are being provided and that the highly trained, highly qualified, dedicated people providing the services are paid a livable wage. We think what is happening at SUNY Downstate is just the tip of the iceberg and we must work together to ensure there are no further cuts to public health care included in the Executive budget."

"If Hurricane Sandy taught us anything, it taught us that we must maintain and improve our healthcare infrastructure of which SUNY Downstate plays a vital role," said Lester Crocket, President CSEA Metropolitan Region. "Second, it also illustrated that we are all members of a community that is interdependent on one another for our very success and survival. SUNY workers live in the community and serve their neighbors in the community. They shop, worship, and educate their children in this vibrant and diverse Central Brooklyn community. It's a functional but fragile ecosystem that should not be destroyed by petty politics or poor planning."

"The members of Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH) joins in the call to the governor to save Downstate," said CUSH Chairman Bishop Orlando Findlayter of the New Hope Christian Fellowship. "The closure or reduction of services to Downstate will be damaging to the community. We believe it is our moral obligation to stand in solidarity with workers and the community."

"Public hospitals have a unique mission, in which no one in need of health care is turned away, no matter their economic status," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. "That very mission is especially critical when you consider that many who rely on the services provided at Downstate Medical Center are elderly and from low-income neighborhoods. It is not only imperative that Downstate be kept open, but also that the state provide the hospital with the resources necessary so that our neediest citizens have continued access to quality health care."

"Saving vital health care services and jobs at SUNY Downstate has become a community effort," said Rowena Blackman-Stroud, President of the UUP Chapter at SUNY Downstate. "Brooklyn's faith-based leaders, labor leaders and community members are working together to save the jobs of hundreds of dedicated caregivers, who provide life-saving health care to thousands of patients each day."

"Downstate Medical Center is really the blood bank of Brooklyn," said Pastor Shane Vidal of the Marantha Seventh Day Adventist Church. "We are calling on Gov. Cuomo and elected officials to stand with us to secure the future of our hospital."

In addition to faith, community, and labor, members of the Legislature were also in attendance.

Members of the coalition stated that today's rally and lobby day is just one part of their advocacy. They pledged to work throughout the session and beyond to save Downstate and keep SUNY Health Science Centers public.