March 28, 2024
Brooklyn faith leaders, members advocate for SUNY Downstate
uupdate 03-28-24

By Kate Morano, special to UUP

A delegation of Brooklyn faith leaders joined forces with Downstate Chapter members March 27 for a day of meetings with lawmakers, as part of UUP’s ongoing effort to stop the state’s plan to close SUNY Downstate University Hospital.

"We need to be united and sharing the stories we have," UUP President Fred Kowal told the gathering. "The state of New York has a lot of resources and it is their responsibility to maintain this facility."

Members met with nearly two dozen state senators and Assembly members. They shared their stories and got a glimmer of hope that two months of relentless, impassioned advocacy on behalf of their hospital might save it.

“I’m so happy to talk to you about Downstate, because I have a hospital closure in my district—Mount Sinai Beth Israel,” Sen. Kristen Gonzalez, said in a meeting with a UUP delegation that included statewide Vice President for Professionals Carolyn Kube; and Downstate Chapter members Nelcia Trim—a nurse manager in the medical intensive care unit—and Monica Smith Carmichael, who works in the Downstate finance office.

Gonzalez, who represents the 59th Senate District, praised the strategies Downstate members are using to protect their hospital, and she said that her constituents modeled their advocacy for Mount Sinai Beth Israel on UUP’s efforts.

The day also included a meeting between Kowal and Assemblymember Pat Fahy—chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee—in which Fahy emerged from the Assembly chamber after hours of budget discussions. Although Fahy did not cite specifics, she told Kowal that budget prospects look good for several of UUP’s legislative agenda issues.

Speaking truth to power

Legislators joined the Downstate advocates in the Albany Room on the Empire State Plaza Concourse for conversation. Among those who addressed the gathering: Sen. Toby Stavisky, Senate Higher Education Committee chair; Sen. Helene Weinstein, Senate Ways and Means Committee chair; Sen. Zellnor Myrie, whose 20th Senate District includes SUNY Downstate; and NYSUT President Melinda Person.

"We will not tolerate the disrespect anymore. We will not accept second-class citizenship for Brooklyn," said Myrie, an outspoken critic of the state’s plan to shutter Downstate’s hospital. "We want world-class health care for Brooklyn and will not accept anything less than that."

Downstate employee Anthony Holder led a passionate chant of "Brooklyn needs Downstate" after Myrie spoke. "It's not good for the community,” Holder said of the closure plan. “A lot of people will die."

Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, who represents SUNY Downstate as part of the 43rd Assembly District, expressed optimism that Downstate hospital will remain open.

“I think we’re in a good place,” said Cunningham, who attended a March 22 community forum on the hospital’s importance to Brooklyn.

A call to include stakeholders

Bishop Orlando Findlayter, pastor of Brooklyn’s New Hope Christian Fellowship, recounted the last time the state came up with plan to “restructure” Downstate University Hospital—a plan that could have led to a major reduction of staff and services. Findlayter was a strong ally to UUP in that fight.

“For us, this is really frustrating,” he told the gathering at the lunch. “I was there 11 years ago. We fought the state, we fought Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and we won. We have to let them know you should not support any budget that includes the closure of Downstate. Don’t make decisions for us without speaking to us.”

Lawmakers commended UUP members and Downstate employees for their persistence in opposing the closure plan.

"We are all one family, one fabric," said Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman of Brooklyn’s 56th Assembly District. "Someone who lives somewhere else cannot tell you what your community needs. If they won't listen to us, they can't lead us."

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon of the 52nd Assembly District in Brooklyn told the gathering that although the state Senate and Assembly one-house bills rejected the closure plan, there is still work to be done to protect Downstate’s future.

"The idea that people can just go across the street to Kings County is insane. It makes no sense to even try to run a medical school without a hospital," Simon said. "I am here to ensure that what happens to Downstate best serves the community."

UUP Managing Editor Darryl McGrath contributed to this story

Follow us on Social Media!

Not a UUP Member Yet?

Join your co-workers in the nation's largest higher education union