SUNY’s faculty and staff union bolstered the fight against a plan to reduce or potentially close and transfer services at the existing SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital in East Flatbush on Tuesday by hosting a panel of people who are perhaps most directly aware of what these changes would mean: its faculty.

The discussion led by the president of the United University Professions (UUP) Fred Kowal  explored what doctors and researchers working in the facility said would involve “devastating” impacts on their care in the areas of maternal health, pandemic response and educational and research opportunities for medical students.

The union has sharply criticized Gov. Hochul’s plan to “transform” the state-run medical hospital in a manner that will likely include the relocation of patient care services to surrounding hospitals, as well as health care worker layoffs. State Sen. Zelnor Myrie joined Kowal on the call in rejecting the characterization of the plan as a continuation of its services in another form.

“What they have proposed is not a transformation. This is the eradication of healthcare services in Central Brooklyn,” Myrie said. Neither SUNY or the governor’s office responded to a request for comment.

The staff included Camille Clare, the hospital’s chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Mike Augenbraun, a professor of medicine with a focus on infectious disease; Lisa Dresner, an associate professor of surgery; and Randall Barbour, a researcher in the field of pathology.

Clare raised acute concerns over how the proposed changes would affect her patients’ access to maternal care. Downstate is one of two regional perinatal centers in the borough, which means its patients often come with high risk, complex medical conditions.

“This would mean a maternity desert in an urban environment for the loss of our facility. There are not enough places for patients to give birth in other facilities throughout the borough,” she said.

Clare added that if the hospital were to lose its maternal health services, it would cut against the initiative that the governor announced in November to boost regional perinatal centers.

Augenbraun pointed out how at the worst of the pandemic, SUNY Downstate was turned into a Covid-only facility that saved the lives of countless people in the area. Advocates pointed out then how decades of shrinking hospital capacity crippled New York City’s ability to fight the virus.

“I can’t wrap my head around what it would be like if we didn’t have this facility to provide guidance, leadership and clinical care during those very dark periods,” he said.

Augenbraun added that though epidemic issues only arise in moments of crisis, the community members depend on the hospital for regular care “to provide everything soup to nuts for their medical care.”

Beyond the services the hospital provides to Central Brooklyn residents, the medical professors asked where medical students are going to get their inpatient experiences if the teaching hospital is broken up.

“30% of clinical rotations, as I understand at any one time for the medical school take place at downstate, where are those students gonna go?” said Augenbraun. “I think the people that are proposing this plan to close the hospital don’t understand the complex web of dependency that the hospital plays in both the undergraduate and graduate medical education”

Augenbraun said that he remains very skeptical of other universities that say they will take the SUNY Downstate students. He said he simply doesn’t see how the medical student will retain access to the same type of intensive medical training.

A crowd rallied outside SUNY Downstate hospital Feb. 28


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