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For Immediate Release
March 21, 2024

Skewed SUNY Report on Downstate Hospital is an ‘insult’ to Central Brooklyn Community

United University Professions, (UUP) the nation’s largest higher education union, today called a SUNY report gauging community interest in its plan to close SUNY Downstate University Hospital a total sham that was compiled behind closed doors and no doubt is contrived to back its ill-conceived vision for Brooklyn’s sole public teaching hospital.

UUP President Fred Kowal blasted SUNY Chancellor John King Jr. for his hastily cobbled together effort to gather community input more than a month after he announced a plan to shutter the facility, and following intense and immediate opposition to the plan from the community. A plan that would move services—such as Brooklyn’s only kidney transplant center—to other hospitals and cram what’s left into a wing of the Kings County Hospital Center, across the street.

“If the chancellor and SUNY really cared about what the community thinks about their plan to close Downstate, they would have included the community in conversations before they announced plans to shut down our hospital,” Kowal said.

“We know that the community doesn’t want SUNY Downstate to close because we’ve asked them and they told us, face-to-face,” Kowal continued. “We shut down Clarkson Avenue on Feb. 29 and held a rally that drew more than 1,200 people and a long list of legislators and Brooklyn faith leaders—like Rev. Al Sharpton, Bishop Orlando Findlayter and Sen. Zellnor Myrie—who demanded that Downstate remain open. The community has told us, loud and clear: Brooklyn needs Downstate.” Kowal also ripped the chancellor and SUNY for the methods SUNY used to gather community sentiment about its closure plan.

“Focus groups that SUNY relied on for community input were invite-only; they weren’t publicized nor were they open to the media. Without public scrutiny and open public discourse, SUNY was free to collect data in a very secretive and controlled way that would support its predetermined outcomes and its plan to shut down Downstate hospital,” Kowal said.

A SUNY community survey distributed to Brooklyn residents was complicated and structurally problematic. In its report, SUNY said it sent the survey to 36,000 people in Downstate’s service area but only received 1,049 responses—a paltry response rate of just 2.9%.

“This entire process, which was conducted in secret from the very start, is an insult to the people of Central Brooklyn,” Kowal said.

Brooklyn community members have spoken out loudly in support of keeping Downstate open and serving the community. More than 400,000 patients—many of them from Central Brooklyn—are treated at Downstate hospital each year. The vast majority of them are on Medicaid, are underinsured or have no health insurance.

In mid-March, more than 50 faith leaders and leaders of Brooklyn community groups came out strongly against the plan to close Downstate. In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, the leaders—which represented groups such as the Brooklyn NAACP, the Caribbean Women’s Health Association, Kings Against Violence Initiative and the Brooklyn Movement Center, demanded the closure plan be abandoned.

On March 7, 16 Downstate department chairs—14 of whom are medical doctors—issued a four-page statement stating their concerns about the impact the hospital’s closure will have on Central Brooklyn patients. They said the health care received by Central Brooklyn residents would be “drastically compromised” if the hospital closes, and that the closure would be “devastating” to Downstate’s medical school.

Two days earlier, the American Federation of Teachers released a report that said Central Brooklyn residents who use Downstate hospital overwhelmingly oppose SUNY’s plan to close the facility. The report said that 71% of respondents were against closing the hospital; 54% said they strongly opposed closing it. By a wide margin, community members said that shutting down the hospital would be “catastrophic.”

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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