May 10, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo may have earned some points appealing directly to the Obama administration for help saving four Brooklyn hospitals from closure or privatization – but that didn’t spare the state's top dog from the wrath of labor leaders, clergy members, hospital patients, axed workers and Reverend Al Sharpton – all of whom skewered the state’s chief executive at a rally outside SUNY Downstate Medical Center on Thursday. (Watch Video)
The venerable institution, along with Brookdale Medical Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital could soon cease to exist in their current incarnations if New York State doesn’t come up with the $10 billion needed to keep them going.
And the hundreds who came out to demonstrate in front of SUNY Downstate’s 470 Clarkson Avenue entrance blamed Governor Cuomo for the entire mess.
“Without SUNY Downstate, I wouldn’t be here,” hemo-dialysis patient Letisha Wadsworth said. “I would be dead. And without the dialysis services and other health services provided by this hospital, the epidemic of kidney failure, high blood pressure and diabetes would be killing thousands within our community.”
About 400 SUNY Downstate Medical Center staffers have already lost their jobs. Lois Cooper has been working at the hospital for almost 10 years, but is facing termination in September.
“[Governor Cuomo] needs to stop dehumanizing this situation and realize that he’s affecting the well-being and livelihood of thousands of people,” Cooper said. “We’re not just inanimate objects. It can’t always be about money.”
This week’s rally – the latest in a string of public demonstrations that have taken place at SUNY Downstate since last summer – received the support of union heads from four different labor organizations.
UUP Presiden-elect Fred Kowal vowed that not one more member of his union presently working at the public institution would lose their job.
“The healthcare provided here is a civil right,” Kowal said. “What do we as New Yorkers stand for? Is it healthcare for all? This is a healing place. This is where we make life in Brooklyn better for all.”
About 8,000 faculty and staff work at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. It is the fourth-largest employer in Brooklyn, and has been in operation since 1860. Most of the physicians practicing in New York City today, received their education at SUNY Downstate.
CSEA Local 1000 Region 2 President Lester Crockett told demonstrators that the coalition to save SUNY Downstate will simply not allow anyone to shutter the hospital’s doors.
“If we allow them to take one hospital away, it will just be a trickle down effect,” Crockett said. “We have to fight until we win.”
PEF President Susan Kent lamented the need for protesters to fight just to keep SUNY Downstate open – and appealed to Governor Cuomo to come to Brooklyn and “face the people.”
“It is a tragedy that we are here today to fight for healthcare,” Kent said. “It is a human right. But it is a great thing that we are here today because whatever awakens the people to stand up for their rights is a good thing.”
PSC President Barbara Bowen told demonstrators that 25,000 CUNY professors and staffer were with them in solidarity.
“New York City has the greatest income inequality of any city in this country,” Bowen said. “If this city with the richest people in the country cannot find a way to provide healthcare for all of us, then that is an indictment of the whole state.”
Many among the hundreds of demonstrators blamed racism for SUNY Downstate’s dire straights.
“We cannot accept one more dime, one more job, one more service to be cut from this hospital,” Reverend Al Sharpton said. “Go to where there’s fat and cut the fat. Don’t cut those of us who have already been cut to the bone.”