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For Immediate Release
February 9, 2024

UUP: Focus groups for SUNY Downstate’s hospital a ‘complete sham’

SUNY’s so-called “community-driven engagement and visioning process” to get input about the future of SUNY Downstate University Hospital weeks after announcing its intent to close the facility is a shoddy public relations stunt staged to answer the Brooklyn community’s outrage over the closure plan.

Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union, said that SUNY hastily scheduled the public forums only after the Brooklyn community loudly demanded that its public teaching hospital remain open and operating.

“SUNY drafted its plan to close Downstate’s hospital in secrecy and was happy to move forward without involving the community in any way, shape or form,” said Kowal. “This is a complete scam. It’s nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a disingenuous move to make the community believe they will actually have a say in what happens to this hospital.”

SUNY Chancellor John King Jr., during testimony at a Feb. 8 state higher education hearing, said that he met with the governor’s office and Downstate President Wayne Riley for months about a plan to close the hospital before it was announced Jan. 16.

“If SUNY really cared about what the community thinks, they would have engaged with stakeholders six months ago when the plan to close Downstate was being developed,” Kowal said. “Scheduling a handful of focus groups now smacks of desperation and pushes the limits of insincerity. It displays arrogance and total disrespect to the people of Brooklyn.”

“Once these bogus focus groups are completed, there will be no significant changes to SUNY’s plan to close Downstate’s hospital,” Kowal continued. “But SUNY will be able to claim, falsely, that they gave the community a chance to speak.”

News of SUNY’s plan to close Downstate broke Jan. 16, when Riley sent staff an email about “the future of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University.” On Feb. 7, SUNY announced it would hold five “themed” focus groups and send out community surveys to solicit public input about Downstate. The findings will be published in a mid-March report, according to a SUNY press release.

Under SUNY’s closure plan, many of Downstate University Hospital’s health care services would allegedly be farmed out to neighboring hospitals. Those remaining would be consolidated into a wing at Kings County Hospital Center.

The Central Brooklyn community relies on Downstate’s hospital for care. More than 400,000 patients are treated there each year and the vast majority of them—nearly 90%—are on Medicaid, are underinsured or have no health insurance. Downstate ranks No. 1 out of all 143 hospitals in New York state for the percentage of its revenue generated by Medicaid, meaning the most vulnerable and underserved populations would be impacted most by 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.

Kowal also questioned SUNY’s quick timeline for public comment. SUNY proposes to hold five focus groups, send out and gather information from community surveys and put this information into a report—all in about a month’s time.

“The only way this extremely short timeline works is if SUNY already has its report written and is simply going through the motions by hosting these public sessions,” Kowal said. “Their efforts are dubious at best and deceitful at worst.”

Kowal urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to halt the plan to close the hospital and allow the community a true opportunity to have its say regarding Downstate’s future.

“What is the rush here?,” Kowal asked. “SUNY’s plan to close the hospital must be rejected so the Central Brooklyn community and all other stake holders can engage in a deliberative and inclusive process to determine the best paths forward to maintain SUNY Downstate as a vital, sustainable state public hospital.”

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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