February 10, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – The coalition of labor, community and elected officials fighting for over a year to shield SUNY Downstate Medical Center from possible closure or privatization, is calling on thousands of supporters to flood the state capital in a massive demonstration too big for an unresponsive Governor Andrew Cuomo to ignore.
“We are going to fight like hell to keep what we already have,” NYS AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Terrence L. Melvin told a packed audience Thursday morning on East 49th Street. “We will get everybody that we can to help us.”
SUNY Downstate advocates are incensed with the governor’s apparent insouciance, and are urging the state’s top dog to release Medicaid reimbursement monies necessary to keep the vital Brooklyn hospital and medical school going, while new ways are sought to address the crisis facing not only SUNY Downstate Medical Center – but also Long Island College Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center – as well.
To do that, Brooklyn’s tough talking new borough president says that neighborhood residents need to “get into a real fight.”
“Now is the time to escalate and bump this up a notch,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said. “The game must shift to mobilizing the community.”
Earlier in the week, the borough president also hosted a special forum on the “redevelopment” of Long Island College hospital located in Brooklyn Heights.
The former Democratic state senator representing the 20th District in Brooklyn, lamented that over the last three state budgets, prevailing legislators have used a “butcher knife to devastate our community.”
“And we have peacefully allowed it to go through,” Borough President Adams continued. “So, now is the time to draw a line in the sand.”
Fellow advocates are fired up and ready to show they mean business, too. An upcoming three-day fast in front of SUNY Downstate’s Crown Heights campus is being organized – and labor leaders say that their members are ready to play a big part.
“We have commitments from hundreds, so far,” said Rowena Blackman-Stroud, president of the United University Professions [UUP] chapter representing nearly 3,000 workers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “The clock is ticking on the future of this hospital, the well-being of our community and the future of hundreds of workers.”
On March 6, Public Advocate Letitia James will also host a rally confronting the possible loss of SUNY Downstate, Long Island College Hospital and Interfatih Medical Center, at a special forum held at Friendship Baptist Church, 92 Herkimer Street. Start time is 6 p.m.
“We’ve got to get all of our allies to mobilize – the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, NAACP, community organizations – we’ve got to come together on this issue and build better alliances so we don’t separate ourselves,” Melvin added.
Karen Benker, an MD and associate dean at the Community Public Health Affairs School of Public Health, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, dismissed claims that Brooklyn public hospitals are underutilized – and said that the reason some beds are unoccupied is because there is not enough money to hire the necessary staff to take care of more patients.
“And why?” Benker asked. “Because the Medicaid reimbursement rate is below the cost of taking care of someone. So, every time a hospital admits somebody with Medicaid, it’s going to lose money.”
Melvin, too, characterized the crisis facing Brooklyn’s public hospitals as being “all about economics.”
“It is not strange that some of the poorest folks are in Brooklyn, and they’re trying to take the health care and the education system out of Brooklyn,” Melvin added.
Earlier in the day, UUP President Fred Kowal testified about the obvious inequity at a public hearing held at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
“I find it alarming – and frankly, amazing – that the state, within the last month alone, has managed to find more than $43 million in state funds to support private hospitals,” Kowal said. “Yet, the state has not mentioned, nor provided for, the needs of SUNY’s teaching hospitals or the communities they serve. It is a shame that state dollars are being sent to private hospitals, when SUNY’s public hospitals are in such dire need of that funding.”
Borough President Adams pressed the need for mass action – pointing out that when gun owners in northern New York felt their rights were under threat, thousands came out in protest.
“If they can do it for a gun – we can do it for the hospitals that treat gunshot victims,” the borough president said.
Assemblyman Nick Perry, meanwhile, said that he has personally invited Governor Cuomo to come to Brooklyn – but to no avail.
“We are being taken for granted,” the assemblyman said.