Over 1,200 of hospital workers and community members joined union members and elected officials on a cold Thursday to continue the fight against a plan to reduce or potentially close the existing SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital in East Flatbush and relocate its services elsewhere.

Though the protest centered local concerns over healthcare access in Central Brooklyn, it has attracted the attention of national figures like Rev. Al Sharpton and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Downstate has been one of the few. Now they want to blame the lack of funding on the folks that made little do much,” Sharpton said. “Whatever needs to be done from the state to the federal level needs to be done. But we’ll not tolerate you shutting down Downstate.”

The rally was led by the United University Professions (UUP), the union representing faculty and staff of the SUNY system, which sharply criticized Gov. Hochul’s plan to “transform” the state-run medical hospital. The governor’s plan will likely include the relocation of patient care services to surrounding hospitals, as well as health care worker layoffs.

In remarks UUP President Frederick E. Kowal and the area’s state Senator Zelnor Myrie said they were not consulted in the lead-up to the current plan for the facility, and slammed it as worsening racial health outcomes in the area.

“We also have heard the governor talk about how terrible the maternal mortality crisis is in the African American community. Fine words, fine words, but it’s deeds that matter. And if she embraces this plan to close his place of healing, she will be locking out black mothers and black babies and that is wrong,” said Kowal.

Union leaders are calling for a public process that gives the community, electeds and unions to raise important concerns about any potential closures or relocations before a decision is made about the future of the hospital and its workforce.

“It’s taken on a racial tone. And I am a supporter of the governor but on this one, she’s wrong. She’s being looked at as a woman who’s wrapped in her privilege from Buffalo, trying to impose what’s going on in this community,” said PEF President Wayne Spence to LaborPress.

The state has reportedly said it based its decision on facility problems including low numbers of patients, operating deficits and a deteriorating hospital building. Speakers at the rally pushed back that the hospital was busy and the other problems stem from a lack of state funding.

They also pointed out that Downstate has specialized care that the neighboring hospital Kings County doesn’t provide, like its kidney treatment center. UUP wants the process to focus on developing a sustainability plan for Downstate that maintains the hospital as a free-standing facility that can continue to provide these specialty services.

The state legislators like Myrie and Assemblymember Latrice Walker, who represent the surrounding Central Brooklyn area, joined local clergy giving fiery speeches that invoked biblical scripture.

“We are standing in the fire and we will not bow, we will not yield, we will not stop.” said Myrie.

“If we have to hold 10 more rallies, we’ll hold 10 more rallies.”

Asked whether the Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins, will push the hospital issue in the budget negotiations that are about to heat up over the next month, Myrie said that he is advocating for it.

“We’ll see whether or not the administration in negotiations will stick to this plan to close our hospital in central Brooklyn or if they will listen to the community,” he said.

hosted a rally today at the State Capitol in Albany. Statewide labor leaders from AFT, the New York State AFL-CIO, NYSUT, and PEF joined the rally in solidarity with UUP to urge the Governor and SUNY to scrap their proposal to shutter SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn.

Over a decade of neglect and disinvestment by the state has threatened patients’ access to equitable, high-quality health care services in Brooklyn.

An understanding of the care provided, patients served, and the needs of the community should inform the state’s decisions, including data released by the NYS Department of Health February 1 as part of a legislative mandate to study health care in Brooklyn. The data found that residents in Brooklyn, especially low-income residents, and people of color, have poor access to health care services. Closing SUNY Downstate’s hospital will not increase access to services. It will do just the opposite.

But the union representing many health care workers at SUNY Downstate said that shipping out services to other hospitals would lead to a diminished institution.

Rev. Al Sharpton
UUP members rally outside SUNY Downstate
UUP Presiden Fred Kowal


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