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For Immediate Release
February 29, 2024

More than 1,200 Frontline Workers and Reverend Al Sharpton Rally With Faith and Union Leaders, Elected Officials at SUNY Downstate Hospital

Diverse Coalition Calls on Governor Hochul to Stop the Downstate Closure Plan and Invest in Its Future

Click Here to Download Video From the Rally

BROOKLYN, NY – A crowd of more than 1,200 doctors, nurses, hospital workers, and community members joined union members and elected officials to shut down a section of Clarkson Avenue across from SUNY Downstate University Hospital today to loudly express their support for keeping Downstate open and condemn the Governor’s plan to close it.

United University Professions (UUP), the nation’s largest higher education union, hosted the “Brooklyn Needs Downstate” rally today. UUP was joined by other national and statewide labor leaders from the American Federation of Teachers, the New York State AFL-CIO, NYSUT, PEF, and the New York State Nurses Association.

The noon rally drew faculty and staff from Downstate, residents, medical students, patients, and community members who gathered in solidarity with UUP to show Governor Hochul why she needs to rethink her plan to close SUNY Downstate Hospital.

A group of Brooklyn faith leaders spoke at the rally, as did several Brooklyn-area state legislators, including Senator Zellnor Myrie, who has loudly opposed the governor’s plan to close SUNY Downstate Hospital.

Speakers noted that decades of neglect and disinvestment by the state have threatened patients’ access to equitable, high-quality health care services in Brooklyn.

Union leaders are calling for the governor to immediately stop the closure plan and convene an inclusive and deliberative public process in which the community and all other stakeholders are meaningfully engaged. This process should focus on developing a sustainability plan for Downstate that maintains the hospital as a free-standing facility that can provide core specialty services and other critical health care services the Central Brooklyn community needs and deserves.

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 on 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 hospital will decrease access to services for tens of thousands of people in Central Brooklyn alone.

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, the only state 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.

Reverend Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network said, "Shuttering SUNY Downstate would be a disaster as it's the only facility in all of Brooklyn that provides a variety of treatments for diseases that disproportionately affect Black and Brown people. The state must come up with solutions for expanding care in disadvantaged communities, not shutting down hospitals and making healthcare more difficult to access."

“It has been about a month since SUNY Chancellor King announced the plan that he and Governor Hochul concocted in secret to close SUNY Downstate Hospital,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “In that time, thousands of people have shared their collective outrage over the ridiculous plan. Rather than acknowledging the overwhelming response in support of keeping SUNY Downstate open, SUNY launched a series of disingenuous community engagement forums, while at the same time, the governor has plowed ahead with her plan to close SUNY Downstate Hospital. We should expect more from our governor. The people of Brooklyn deserve better than this.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “Closing SUNY Downstate isn’t just a blow to the Brooklyn community. It’s a slap in the face to the healthcare professionals who have been keeping New Yorkers healthy for years. Closing it also means shuttering a hospital in a predominantly Black & brown community, and a college that trains nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to care for patients. New York needs Downstate.”

Bishop Orlando Findlayter, Paster of New Hope Christian Fellowship and Community Advocate said, “As a faith and Community Leader here in Flatbush, I am alarmed that the state of New York and SUNY wants to disrupt the vital services presently provided by SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This institution is a beacon in our community and we are going to do everything we can to make sure Downstate remains open and continues to provide the great services it presently provides to our community. The plan that is needed is for the state to stop neglecting SUNY Downstate and invest in the infrastructure of the Medical Center.”

PEF President Wayne Spence said, “It is a travesty that we are here again at SUNY Downstate fighting for this hospital’s survival. I was there in 2012 and 2013 when Governor Cuomo wanted to privatize it. Seven years later he designated it a COVID-only hospital. The healthcare heroes at Downstate helped hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers survive the pandemic. They are amazing public servants, and they deserve better. If the State really wants to transform Downstate, let’s work together now, when there’s a budget surplus, to fund and staff it – so that anyone who needs quality, affordable healthcare in Central Brooklyn can get it.”

NYSUT President Melinda Person said, “Rather than closing it down, New York must take this opportunity to breathe new life into SUNY Downstate, reshaping it into a dynamic healthcare center that aligns with Brooklyn's needs. We need to revitalize it using careful consideration and input from community stakeholders. Let’s urge our state to invest in expansion and address the maternal health crisis in Brooklyn. The babies and the mothers in Brooklyn deserve no less.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, “SUNY Downstate not only provides high-quality health care to all those who need it, regardless of their ability to pay, but it also plays a vital role in educating and training the next generation of medical professionals. We must ensure that SUNY Downstate remains open to continue to fulfill its public healthcare mission.”

Redetha Abrahams-Nichols, UUP Downstate Chapter President said, “Downstate is the community's hospital, and we will not stop fighting until the governor stops the closure. This closure plan is a form of racism and of social injustice, and would create greater health disparities in our community. As the only COVID-only facility designated by the state of New York, we saved many lives in the community during the pandemic; decisions about Downstate to close us down without any community involvement are inexcusable. We at SUNY Downstate need answers: How can you close a hospital that provides excellent care to the Black and Brown community and is culturally competent? We refuse to be silenced, ignoreds or discriminated against. We will continue to provide health care and education to future patients and health care professionals. We urge the city, state, and federal government to fund SUNY Downstate and prevent the people of Central Brooklyn from dying because of this poor decision.”

Senator Zellnor Myrie said, "SUNY Downstate has been there for our community in our times of need-- from serving as a COVID-only hospital during the height of the pandemic, to supplying more New York City doctors than any other medical school. Brooklyn is the epicenter of the Black maternal health crisis, and we have some of the worst racial and economic health disparities in the country. The proposal before us would close one of the most critically important hospitals, serving the highest-need communities in New York State. We demand a real plan that puts our community's needs first. Brooklyn needs Downstate!"

Assemblymember Latrice M. Walker said, “Brooklyn needs SUNY Downstate! It is a vital safety-net hospital that treats everyone who walks through their doors regardless of their ability to pay. Ninety percent of the patients there are on Medicaid, uninsured or underinsured. Most of them are people of color with limited access to quality healthcare, which ought to be a basic human right. The failure to save SUNY Downstate will only exacerbate the health disparities that already exist in the Brooklyn neighborhoods served by the hospital. The failure to save SUNY Downstate will decrease life expectancy and send the message that some people in Albany don’t care if poor people live or die.”

"After weeks of speculation, Central Brooklyn residents, hospital administrators, and frontline workers still have no concrete information on the transformation of the community’s largest and most vital healthcare provider, SUNY Downstate. For weeks now, I have asked for three things: community input, job security for all of our essential workers, and the passage of my four pieces of legislation that will help stabilize the communities health care needs and financial stability. After years of disinvestment and neglect from the State, my neighbors deserve to be at the table crafting a thoughtful, community-based plan to secure Downstate's successful operation – not just for a few years, but in perpetuity," said Assembly Member Brian A. Cunningham. "I am calling on the Governor and the legislature to pass my four bills that offer a viable lifeline for SUNY Downstate."

“Downsizing, consolidating, and transferring patients away from SUNY Downstate will erode healthcare access for Central Brooklynites – and eliminate the medical school that has trained so many of the Black doctors all across our New York’s communities,” said NYC Comptroller Brad Lander. “As the pandemic painfully demonstrated, New York City needs a robust hospital network to maintain a healthier, more thriving future -- keeping SUNY Downstate open for the people who rely on it is a vital part of that mission.”

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice said, "With poverty and the lack of access to healthcare already one of the most common causes of death in the United States, it is shameful that politicians and administrators are threatening to close SUNY Downstate, a public safety net hospital that stands in that gap for healthcare in central Brooklyn. We need to save SUNY Downstate and then make sure there are more public hospitals that put community health first and insure that healthcare as a human right for everyone."

Rev. Kirkpatrick Cohall PhD, Senior Pastor Lenox Road Baptist Church said, “The proposed structural changes by the State University of New York for Downstate University Hospital have created a significant amount of anxiety and concern from within the hospital system as well as in the community. Downstate has been on the forefront of fighting for equity and access to the best health care in this city for many years. The COVID pandemic revealed the enormous disparities in our health care system and confirmed that those disparities are deeply rooted in racism and discrimination. Consequently, the proposed changes are viewed with great suspicion and concern that vital services, jobs and economic stability for the residents will be severely diminished. Keeping Downstate open and viable will continue to address the inequities and disparities in our health care system. So today, our fight continues, we call upon the State and Federal government to rise to the challenge and save this historic medical institution, not in a fragmented and disorganized way, but to make all the resources available to continue the vital role that Downstate has played in central Brooklyn for many years.”

Brooklyn was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak during the early days of the pandemic and Downstate was designated a COVID-only hospital, charged with 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. 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 Brooklyn’s only kidney transplant program.
    • 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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