December 7, 2012

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Brooklynites stand up, speak out for SUNY Downstate

uupdate 12-7-12

Downstate Medical Center Chapter President Rowena Blackman-Stroud drives her point home during a Dec. 6 Brooklyn community forum to save jobs and health care services at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

More than 200 people, many of them former Downstate patients from central Brooklyn, area clergy and faith-based leaders, and small business owners, attended the sometimes boisterous event—designed to halt a cost-cutting plan at Downstate that’s targeted cuts for hundreds of jobs, many of them held by UUPers.

Community members, who clapped, prayed and sang a rousing version of “We Shall Overcome” at the forum, signed petitions asking Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to intercede and save services and jobs at Downstate.

Blackman-Stroud, who organized the meeting with the Brooklyn-based SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders, said cutting jobs at Downstate will force the medical center to curtail vital health care services and devastate the Brooklyn economy.

“Compromising Downstate compromises the health and economic well-being of an already struggling community,” Blackman-Stroud said. “Many patients who are uninsured or who need the kind of specialized treatments Downstate provides would have nowhere else to turn.”

“SUNY Downstate is an essential institution to the entire community,” said Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.

Sobbing at times, a Brooklyn woman, Dianne Brown, tearfully told how Downstate doctors and medical staff saved the life of her daughter, Jewel Sulker.

Sulker, who is 15 but has the height and features of a much younger child, was born without a colon, genitalia, cervix or kidneys, and has a deformed spine, bladder and knees. The girl, who is mute and mostly deaf, was given less than 24 hours to live when she was born. She has undergone multiple operations at Downstate.

“I’m here because I have nowhere else to go with Jewel,” said Brown, wiping away tears. “I can’t start over with a new hospital that has no idea how to handle her care.

“There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well I say, it takes a hospital to save a child.”

More than 20 speakers—including state Assembly members James Brennan and Inez Barron, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Terrence Melvin and labor leaders from PEF and CSEA—urged the governor to intervene to save jobs and services at Downstate.

So far, more than 400 Downstate employees have been non-renewed as part of the medical center’s cost-cutting restructuring plan. Nearly 300 workers, many of them UUPers, are still on staff and are set to be let go in 2013. More job cuts are imminent, and could occur in the next several months if the community’s calls to save services and jobs go unheeded.

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