January 30, 2024
Hundreds of Downstate members say no way to hospital closure
uupdate 01-30-24

More than 500 UUP Downstate Chapter members packed a conference room Jan. 29 at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Hospital in Brooklyn for a chapter meeting in which all pledged their support to fight for their hospital and to protest the state’s plan to close it.

“I don’t care how much we put into this, how much we have to do,” UUP President Fred Kowal said as he swept from one end of the huge room to another with fervor and intensity. “We have only one goal in this effort: to win. The first step is to stop this terrible plan. We are not interested in a plan that will close Downstate, period. At the end of the day, it’s the governor’s hospital.”

SUNY Chancellor John King Jr., the SUNY Board of Trustees and state officials will not be able to miss the message that members are sending, which includes the stark reminder that people will die if the hospital closes, and their deaths will be preventable, as Downstate Chapter President Redetha Abrahams-Nichols said as members streamed into the room.

“(Patients) are going to die, and I’m being honest,” Abrahams-Nichols said.

Kings County Medical Center, across the street from Downstate, is a Level 1 Trauma Center, a designation that means mass casualties and the most severely injured people can be triaged and treated there. If a building collapses, a high-rise burns, a bridge fails—any of the disasters than can happen in New York City—those trauma victims may end up in Kings County, which then will shut down its less urgent emergency services.

The patients shut out of Kings County—who still have serious medical needs—would go to Downstate for treatment at that Level II Trauma Center. If Downstate closes, it is unclear where those patients would be sent for care.

Members dismiss state’s plan

Members criticized the state’s so-called “transformation plan” for Downstate, which amounts to farming out certain health care services to other hospitals and setting up what’s left in a wing at Kings County. They also doubted SUNY’s statements that the nationally respected Downstate medical school will be left unaffected.

Without a hospital for clinical training, the medical school will be diminished and may face eventual closure, members noted. As for patients? Many will be lost in the shuffle.

"The hospital means everything to me,” said Marie Lauture, who works in technical services at Downstate’s teaching hospital. “I like to help people. It's not the rich people coming here. These people need this hospital."

The closure of Downstate “…would be terrible for the community,” said Tevette Annamanthodo, who works in Downstate’s Nursing Services department. “We serve the minority patients here.”

Tonya Williams, a staff assistant in the Hospital Finance department, said the hospital is like a family.

“You have to care about people,” she said. “When I deal with patients, I put myself in their place. I say, 'What if this were me, what if it were my family?'"

UUP plans to blitz lawmakers, the SUNY Trustees and the community with a strong campaign to save Downstate. This will be a high-intensity effort, packed into the relatively short span of the budget season, and Kowal told the eager members that they will have to give this effort their all.

“We want to get everyone we can involved in this fight at the political level,” he said. "It’s going to be hard. This is a movement for health care, it is a movement for justice.”

Click HERE to send e-letters to Gov. Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and your elected state representatives telling them to save Downstate.

Watch the UUP website (uupinfo.org) and the Connect newsletter for announcements of upcoming advocacy efforts for Downstate—of which there will be many. It’s a fight for all of UUP, and Kowal urged all members to take this attack on Downstate personally.

UUP Communications intern Katie Morano contributed reporting to this story.

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