March 25, 2024
Central Brooklyn community speaks out for Downstate at forum
uupdate 03-25-24

By Kate Morano, special to UUP

Concerned Central Brooklyn gathered at a public forum March 22 to tell personal stories about the care they received at SUNY Downstate University Hospital and to send a strong message to Gov. Kathy Hochul to kill SUNY’s plan to shutter the hospital.

More than 100 residents came to Public School 235, a short walk from the hospital’s Clarkson Avenue campus, to share their stories at the two-hour forum and talk about why Downstate is so important to them and to the community.

David Gallimore, who said he was treated for multiple strokes and cardiac problems at Downstate, spoke passionately as he defended the hospital that he said saved his life numerous times.

“Tonight, I’m here to send a message straight to Albany, to the governor and everyone that sits in that high office: Leave Downstate alone.”

Joan Rosegreen, a Downstate emergency room nurse, said that Central Brooklyn residents will certainly suffer if Downstate closes.

“We have the resources here and when you take that away, what other resources do you offer them?” Rosegreen said. “It’s a death sentence for people in this community.”

Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, another Brooklyn Democrat, attended the forum along with several Brooklyn faith leaders to listen to the community’s concerns. While he spoke briefly at the start of the meeting, he sat and listened quietly.

“Decisions about our community cannot be made 160 miles from our community. They need to be made here,” Cunningham said.

Unmatched patient care

Wayne Knight, who said he’s received treatment for epilepsy and three strokes at Downstate, said the hospital has been a blessing for him. He was visibly emotional at the thought of the closure.

“I was at Downstate for three weeks. I couldn’t ask for better treatment,” Knight said. “Even the nurses that weren’t assigned to me came in and asked how I was doing. We need Downstate today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Alithia Alleyne works for Downstate’s occupational therapy department and has two children who were treated at Downstate. A nurse at the hospital helped her daughter join a program to receive occupational therapy as a toddler. Her daughter is now in medical school.

“It changed the trajectory of my life, my children’s lives,” Alleyne said. “When you’re a mom and something is wrong with your child, everything feels wrong.”

Maria Martell, who works in the hospital’s finance department, fought tears as she recounted the conversation she has had with worried patients about the closure. “I listen to the patients. They are wondering: ‘what is going to happen to me when they close Downstate?’” Martell said. “‘I’m too old to go to Manhattan. I’m too old to go anywhere else.’”

Tempers flare

What was a calm, orderly event unexpectedly and spiraled into a raucous verbal melee toward the end of the forum when state Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, stood up as the last speaker of the night.

Parker, whose district does not include Downstate, instantly drew jeers and ire from the audience as he reiterated some of the major points of SUNY Chancellor John King’s plan to close Downstate’s hospital—including downsizing inpatient services and expanding outpatient services.

More than a dozen community members rose from their seats during Parker’s remarks, symbolically turned their backs on him and walked out of the room. Others called out angry challenges to his statements.

UUP Downstate Chapter President Redetha Abrahams-Nichols, who works at Downstate hospital and lives in the Central Brooklyn community, said Parker supports the fight to keep Downstate open.

“I know Sen. Parker is with us, because we’re going to save SUNY Downstate,” she said. “I want to challenge the governor to come to a real community meeting because this is where it really happens.”

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