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February 8, 2013

UUP president, SUNY Downstate physician urge legislative committee to save SUNY Downstate Medical Center and University Hospital

Warning that plans to downsize, privatize or close SUNY Downstate Medical Center endanger Brooklyn’s health care, economy and medical education, the president of United University Professions strongly urged a state legislative committee to save vital health care services and jobs by keeping SUNY Downstate a full-service, public hospital.

“If we fail to keep Downstate Medical Center as a viable full-service public teaching hospital, many gaps will quickly develop in the health care services required by the Brooklyn community,” said UUP President Phillip H. Smith in submitted testimony for a state Assembly Health Committee hearing on “The Brooklyn health care crisis.”

Smith said a restructuring plan at Downstate has already put hundreds of UUP members there on notice they will be losing their jobs by the end of the summer. He warned the community could not withstand another blow to its economy.

“Over one quarter of the residents in Downstate’s primary service area earn less than $15,000 per year,” Smith testified. “A significant loss of jobs at Downstate would have a horrific impact on Central Brooklyn – jobs will disappear, homes will be lost, and small businesses will shut down. Central Brooklyn is already suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in New York City. It would take years for the Central Brooklyn economy to recover from the loss of more jobs at Downstate.”

“It makes no sense for the state to take an action that will so negatively affect a community that needs more – not less – state assistance,” he added.

Smith also warned that the survival of Downstate’s College of Medicine is dependent on more than $100 million in annual revenues from Downstate University Hospital, a revenue stream that would diminish if University Hospital became less than a full-service hospital.

“In time, the number of primary care physicians in the New York City region will be depleted since Downstate educates and trains the majority of the region’s primary care physicians,” Smith said.

UUP member Karen Benker, M.D., a former clinical physician and current associate professor at SUNY Downstate, testified that closing University Hospital “would be a severe blow to the health of residents of Central Brooklyn.” She said part of Downstate’s mission is to provide highly specialized care to patients whose health has been damaged by years of failing to receive primary care.

“Closing or shrinking University Hospital would force tens of thousands of people who need specialized, ongoing care into the already overcrowded waiting rooms of local emergency rooms,” Benker said.

She also warned that shutting Downstate and closing its medical school would have a chilling effect on the supply of new physicians. “More physicians who practice medicine in New York City received their training at Downstate than any other medical center in the country,” she said.

Dr. Benker also noted that two-thirds of the area’s residents are African American and many are low-income. Benker said a proposal in the 2013-14 Executive Budget that could lead to turning over control of University Hospital to a business corporation would “evade governmental responsibility for providing the care that residents of Central Brooklyn need and deserve.”

“Such a move represents the political abandonment of Black Brooklyn,” Benker added.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 37,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.


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