September 16, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – A broad coalition of labor, faith and community organizations is pressing the fight against the continuing loss of jobs and services at SUNY Downstate Medical Center this week – and charging that a callous Governor Andrew Cuomo is turning his back on those he once pledged to help. (Watch Video)
“We know that in your budget, you can find the money to keep this place afloat and take care of the people of central Brooklyn,” Reverend Al Cockfield said at a rally held outside the medical center’s Clarkson Avenue entrance on Thursday. “Next year, you’re up for re-election. We won’t forget. We will march. We will find a candidate to beat you. We will not allow you to shut down hospitals in our community.”
The Governor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment, but the chief executive’s critics blame Cuomo for doing nothing as the venerable institution and economic engine that is SUNY Downstate Medical Center, continues to shed jobs and healthcare services as part of a state “restructuring” effort to save money.
Sixty-five SUNY Downstate Medical Center workers were terminated over the last several weeks. Another 120 are slated to be axed before the month is out. Worker and patient advocates say that the loss of jobs – hundreds of them overall – is now leading to the shutdown of Downstate’s outpatient dialysis and asthma centers. Special medical units dedicated to aiding stroke victims and high-risk maternity cases are also in jeopardy of going the way of other defunct departments, they say.
“It is important that SUNY Downstate remains a fully-operated, state public hospital,” said United University Professions [UUP] organizer Rowena Blackman-Stroud. “The key word is public. One of the areas being targeted is outpatient dialysis. Just imagine that. It’s the only dialysis unit in all of Brooklyn that provides healthcare services to children.”
The medical center's downsized staff is already struggling to meet the needs of its most vulnerable patients. According to Don Morgenstern of the Public Employees Federation [PEF], SUNY Downstate Medical Center nurses are being stretched incredibly thin, and even those staffing the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit are even being asked to care for more troubled infants.
“There is no reason a nurse should be seeing 10 to 12 patients instead of eight,” Morgenstern said. “There is no reason why in our NIC-U – where [you have] the sickest, most helpless babies in this community – instead of one nurse to two babies, we now have one nurse to four babies. This is a sin, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”
Matthew Weinstein, an organizer with Brooklyn for Peace, maintains that the shedding of jobs at SUNY Downstate is, indeed, part of a transparent plan to privatize the public facility.
“It occurs to me that the governor is using the old bait and switch tactic here,” Weinstein said. “Whenever they try to privatize a public institution, they degrade its services. They layoff workers, they make cutbacks to departments, they close departments. Then, a year or two down the pike, they say, ‘See? It doesn’t work. We’ve got to give it to a private business, or close it all together.’”
Labor leaders argue that SUNY Downstate is actually profitable, and that there is a viable alternative to privatizing the 150-year-old institution.
“We have a healthcare plan that will build healthcare security for the people of Brooklyn into the future,” said Jamie Dangler, UUP vice-president for academics.
Alan B. Lubin, co-chair of the Business and Labor Coalition of New York [BALCONY], said that “privatization” just means that “government has given up.”
“The government has an obligation to each and every employee and each and every patient,’ Lubin said. “And the only way that happens is if the government – and the governor – steps up to the plate, and helps us get out of this problem and keeps this hospital as a viable institution in New York.”