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Governor Cuomo and ‘Backdoor’ Privatization

January 24, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

Public sector workers rally outside Cuomo's offices.
Public sector workers rally outside Cuomo’s offices.

Brooklyn, NY – As hospitals in Brooklyn continue to teeter on the brink this week, the head of the  union representing more than 35,000 SUNY workers, says that a pilot plan contained in the governor's new budget constitutes a "backdoor way of privatizing"  – and demonstrates Cuomo's failure to work with labor in finding a longterm remedy for the borough's hospital crisis. 

"UUP and public sector unions at SUNY Downstate have put together a plan that is the only long-run answer to the hospital crisis in Brooklyn," said Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions [UUP]. "It's a forward-looking plan. It's not just a plan to save Downstate and our own members' jobs. This is a plan that provides a longterm solution." 

"The Brooklyn Hospitals Safety Net Plan" envisions a network of satellite ambulatory care centers running round-the-clock in three shifts, controlled by, and affiliated with, participating hospitals in the borough.

According to Kowal, similar operations presently running in Manhattan and the Bronx, are doing "a booming business." 

"It's where medical care is going in the 21st century," the UUP president added.  

The pilot plan contained in the latest executive budget, however, calls for the creation of five corporations to operate state hospitals – including a teaching hospital or academic medical institution. 

Hundreds of UUP members working at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have already lost their jobs. Meanwhile, thousands more at Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital [LICH]  face the possibility of those institutions disappearing all together. 

Earlier this week, demonstrators protesting the looming closures of Interfaith Medical Center and LICH, called for innovative new ways to properly fund vital public hospitals.

Labor groups supportive of the safety net plan maintain that privatizing public hospitals would harm the delivery of medical services presently offered around the borough. 

"Private hospitals don't provide the same level and spectrum of services that public hospitals do," Kowal said. "They also wouldn't provide the kind of education that our students at the medical college receive."

The plan that UUP is spearheading still requires state funding and Kowal concedes that Brooklyn presents different fiscal challenges than many parts of Manhattan. 

"Brooklyn has a higher percentage of Medicaid patients there," Kowal said. "That's why we're also arguing for a waiver from the federal government, so that there could be a fairer compensation for patients that are treated at hospitals than there currently is."

As proposed, the safety net plan would establish state funding to build and operate the ambulatory care centers, which would then be available to any hospital electing to become part of the network.

"This plan offers a longterm solution; I would think that the governor would want to embrace that," Kowal said. 

Similar plans to introducing privatization to public hospitals were floated in last year's budget as well.  

"Our concern, of course, is that this is on the table again – and it is coming from the governor," Kowal said. 

The current executive state budget also slashes subsidies to SUNY teaching hospitals almost in half from 2010-2011 levels. 

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