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For Immediate Release
February 6, 2024

New York and Brooklyn Need Downstate: Union Leaders, State Legislators, and Frontline Workers Rally at State Capitol

Call on Gov. Hochul and SUNY Chancellor King to Halt Plans to Close SUNY Downstate Hospital

Click Here to Download Video From the Rally

ALBANY, NY - United University Professions (UUP), the nation’s largest higher education union, hosted a “New York and Brooklyn Need Downstate” 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.

Union leaders are calling for a public process in which all stakeholders are engaged, and all concerns and solutions are considered before a decision is made about the future of the hospital and its workforce. 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.

UUP also slammed the state’s plan to leave SUNY Downstate out of the federal government’s Section 1115 waiver funding to bail out cash-strapped hospitals. Under a part of this plan, $2.2 billion is provided to struggling hospitals in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Westchester County. SUNY Downstate, which is New York state’s only public hospital in Brooklyn, will not see even a dollar of that funding.

As a public teaching hospital, Downstate treats all patients who walk through its doors. The vast majority of its patients—nearly 90%—are on Medicaid, are underinsured or have no health insurance. It ranks No. 1 out of all 143 hospitals in New York State as a percent of its revenue from Medicaid, meaning the most vulnerable and underserved populations would suffer from its closure.

Downstate is also the only hospital in Brooklyn with a kidney transplant program. And it regularly has significantly lower emergency room wait times compared to neighboring hospitals.

“It is disturbing that the state is pursuing a proposal to shutter the very hospital that was there when New York was most desperate and needed the help of our frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These highly trained professionals put their lives on the line to save their neighbors and loved ones. And now the state is going to turn around and kick them to the curb? It is unconscionable,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “Closing Downstate means fewer slots for medical school students, fewer graduates to fill crucial positions at hospitals across the state, and less access to health care services for some of our most vulnerable populations in Brooklyn. You don’t solve a public health crisis by closing a hospital. It is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Gov. Hochul has the opportunity to change the repugnant pattern of disinvestment we’ve seen by the prior administration and support the future of our Brooklyn community.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “New York and Brooklyn need Downstate--period. Let’s be clear what Downstate is—it’s an anchor to central Brooklyn and its medical school produces more Brooklyn doctors than any other. Downstate workers served on the frontlines of the global pandemic and deserve our help and support, but instead they’re facing huge uncertainty and threats of closure. I stand with our colleagues, our patients, and our allies to say: Downstate is vital to the community. It needs to say open, not closed. And it needs full funding to offer life-saving care in its teaching hospitals, to assist students, support faculty and staff, and to preserve the pipeline of professionals dedicated to helping the vulnerable patients who rely on them every day for treatment and care.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, “The New York State AFL-CIO calls upon the powers that be to keep SUNY Downstate open. This is about access to healthcare in the community, a critical pipeline for teaching the next generation of medical professionals, and the hundreds of jobs that would be lost if the hospital closed. We cannot let that happen. Together, we are more than capable of figuring out a strategy to save SUNY Downstate. Let’s get everyone to the table to plan for a future that protects the hospital, its patients, and the community it serves.”

NYSUT President Melinda Person said, “We must take this opportunity to breathe new life into SUNY Downstate, reshaping it into a dynamic healthcare center that aligns with Brooklyn's needs. Rather than closing it down, we need to revitalize it using careful consideration and input from community stakeholders. Anything less is antithetical to what SUNY Downstate should be and would not be a transformation, but a travesty.”

“The 400 PEF members who work at SUNY Downstate were given just two days’ notice about this so-called ‘plan,’” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “If the State is intent on ‘transforming’ one of its leading medical centers, why wouldn’t they solicit input from stakeholders like PEF, UUP and the community? The dedicated public employees at Downstate deserve to have a say in their future, not be subject to decisions entirely made by management. New York has tried to close SUNY Downstate before. It was an outcry from organized labor and concerned citizens that prevented it then and we’re mobilized to do it again!”

UUP Downstate Chapter President Redetha Abrahams-Nichols said, “The people of Central Brooklyn need our hospital at Downstate to remain open and operating. It is incredible to me that they’re even talking about closing Downstate when a state Department of Health report issued last week found that the Brooklyn community—and especially people of color with low incomes—have poor access to health care. I’ll be honest: if our hospital closes, patients will die.”

Senator Zellnor Myrie said, “SUNY Downstate has been there for us-- in the darkest days of COVID and in our most vulnerable moments. Yet after decades of disinvestment and neglect, the Governor and SUNY are proposing a plan that would shutter this hospital and worsen the deep racial and economic disparities in access to care. Now it's our turn to be there to support Downstate. We stand united against any plan that reduces care in Central Brooklyn.”

“I was informed of the proposed closing of Downstate University Hospital less than 24 hours before the Governor released her Executive Budget. This is a far too important issue to decide its fate without proper study and deliberation,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “In addition, the people of Central Brooklyn should be asked their opinion as should health providers. Downstate has been subject to underfunding and disinvestment for years. It’s time to see what can be done to revitalize this SUNY institution. Let’s see what it will take to resolve this problem. That requires time. We cannot rush such an impactful decision.”

Assemblymember Brian Cunningham said, “SUNY Downstate is a vital institution for the communities of District 43. In addition to educating our frontline healthcare professionals and medical experts, Downstate is a crucial economic driver and source of lifesaving care for so many of our neighbors. The path forward for Downstate must be driven by community input and expert insight, putting people first. I am grateful to UUP and their partners in organized labor for supporting vital healthcare resources for my constituents.”

"I’m looking forward to working with my legislative colleagues to craft a plan that helps ensure SUNY Downstate’s continued operations and provision of high-quality medical care,” said Assemblymember Patricia Fahy. “SUNY Downstate’s services are critical and vital to those who need it most – the underinsured, uninsured, and Medicaid patients. Alterations to the delivery of care would have an outsized impact on the surrounding community, and we must address this issue in FY2025 budget negotiations.”

“The closure of SUNY Downstate would have the greatest impact on people of color in neighborhoods with the highest concentration of poverty in all of Brooklyn. And I, for one, just can’t sit idly by and let entire communities, a workforce and nearby businesses suffer. I just can’t do it,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker said. “The New York State Department of Health issued a report last week that detailed the inequities that already exist in health care in Brooklyn. The findings were alarming. 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 Hospital will not increase access to services. It will make it worse. I am calling on the state to bring to a halt their plans to close SUNY Downstate Hospital. We need a public process where all stakeholders come to the table. This process needs not only transparency, but it also requires the urgency that a health crisis demands. This is a racial equity issue and I stand at the ready to fight to save SUNY Downstate. I call on my colleagues in state government to join me in this fight.”

“Like their colleagues at SUNY Downstate, SUNY Upstate is a critical access and safety net hospital, said Senator Rachel May. They provide healthcare services to a huge swath of Upstate New York. We are already seeing the capacity of their emergency room and our entire healthcare system straining. At a time of growth in our region, it is so important that we not only maintain all the healthcare capacity we have, but that we add to it. We need to support increased investment in our SUNY hospital system to make this happen.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooklyn was the epicenter and Downstate was designated a COVID-only hospital, treating the sickest New Yorkers. As a result of this designation, which came after years of neglect by the state, the hospital was left in even greater need of investment and updates. Several restoration and modernization projects are underway, and with the state’s focus on maternal and mental health, Downstate offers an opportunity to be the solution to many of the state’s health care shortfalls.

By The Numbers:

    • More than 2,300 UUP members serve patients at Downstate.
    • It is estimated that a closure would put 20-50% of the workforce in jeopardy.
    • More than 400,000 patients receive care at Downstate each year.
    • Downstate houses the only kidney transplant program in all of Brooklyn.
    • Five hospitals have closed in Brooklyn since 2003.
    • Brooklyn is the largest borough in New York City.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 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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