For Immediate Release
January 19, 2024
SUNY’s plan to make drastic changes in the structure and operation of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University will instead undermine the hospital’s central mission and the Brooklyn communities it serves, according to United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union
UUP President Frederick E. Kowal said that SUNY’s plan would essentially relegate the safety net hospital to a wing in Kings County Hospital Center; other health care services would be farmed out to neighboring hospitals. This will unequivocally result in the closure of SUNY Downstate.
UUP represents more than 2,300 workers at SUNY Downstate.
“SUNY is calling its vision for Downstate a transformation, but it is anything but that,” Kowal said. “Let’s call this what it is: SUNY is closing Downstate.
"If you moved the programs offered at my home campus, SUNY Cobleskill, to nearby colleges and turned the campus into a shopping center, do you still have a SUNY Cobleskill? Of course not,” Kowal continued. “And that’s what’s happening at Downstate. If there is no building, there is no hospital.”
Kowal criticized SUNY for its failure to schedule — or even mention holding — public hearings or forums to gather community input about its plans for the hospital.
“This is a radical plan for the hospital that will undoubtedly harm the health of the Central Brooklyn community,” said Kowal. “It is unthinkable that it has not been subject to a full public hearing that would give stakeholders an opportunity to have their say about the future of this vital institution.”
As a public teaching hospital, SUNY Downstate treats all patients who walk through its doors, including patients without insurance or are unable to pay for care. It also provides state-of-the-art procedures that other hospitals can’t or don’t offer. The vast majority of Downstate’s patients — nearly 90 percent — are on Medicaid, are underinsured or have no health insurance.
"How can you pull from this community a hospital this is so needed and so necessary?” Kowal asked. “Central Brooklyn is a diverse, underserved community that relies on the health care SUNY Downstate provides."
“We remain hopeful that Gov. Hochul will not let this happen,” he said. “This is the state’s hospital. Our patients, the Central Brooklyn community and our members are counting on the state to do the right thing and save SUNY Downstate.”
NYSUT President Melinda Person said public input and the “critical community needs” of Central Brooklyn must be a priority in any plan regarding the hospital’s future.
"Reimagining SUNY Downstate with funding and state support could be transformative for Central Brooklyn. Here is an opportunity to provide greater healthcare access and more targeted services in neighborhoods that desperately need them,” Person said. “The governor, Legislature and all stakeholders must work in tandem to forge a bright path forward that prioritizes public input and these critical community needs.”
Many of the employees who could lose their jobs if the hospital is shut down were hailed as heroes during the early days of the pandemic, when New York City was the epicenter of the outbreak. SUNY Downstate was designated as a COVID-only hospital in Spring 2020 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo; the designation lasted nine months.
"Certainly, a large number of the courageous individuals who defended all of us during the darkest days of the pandemic will be negatively affected by SUNY’s plans for the hospital,” Kowal said. “This is disturbing, to say the least.”
Kowal also questioned the state’s plan to send $2.2 billion in Section 1115 waiver funding to bail out cash-strapped private hospitals in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester counties. SUNY Downstate, a public hospital, isn’t getting a dollar of this funding.
“Instead of closing Downstate, let’s reimagine it as a viable, vital health care center that serves the unique needs of Brooklyn and New York City,” Kowal said. “There is another path forward, and UUP stands ready to work with the governor and the state Legislature to find a viable solution to this longstanding problem.”