SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., not only provides vital health care services to residents of New York City’s most populous borough—regardless of income or insurance status—but also sheltered and cared for patients from other hospitals and nursing homes that were forced to shut down as Hurricane Sandy tore through the area.
Yesterday, hundreds of workers and community and faith allies rallied in Albany, urging lawmakers to turn back moves to downsize and privatize SUNY Downstate. At the state Capitol rally, New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said:
We have an obligation to take care of the uninsured, underinsured and those who lack the ability to pay for their care. That is why we have public health care. What’s happening at Downstate is just the latest example of the troubling movement away from public hospitals and nursing homes. We cannot in good conscience turn our back on the 400,000 people in Brooklyn who rely on Downstate each year and the dedicated professionals who provide their care.
Hundreds of nurses and other workers at SUNY Downstate have been sent letters warning of layoffs and there have been proposals to restructure the full service hospital—that also serves as a vital training ground for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals—into an outpatient-only facility. Said Phillip H. Smith, president of the United University Professions (UUP), an affiliate of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT):
What’s happening at SUNY Downstate is a thinly veiled attempt to privatize this public hospital, which provides necessary health care services to hundreds of thousands of patients. If it can happen to Downstate, it can happen to state-operated hospitals across the state. We need to stop this in its tracks.
Said UUP member Melvin Vargasirizarry, who works in Downstate's patient relations department:
The most important thing is we want to keep the hospital open, not only for the staff, but for the patients' safety. Most of the community [residents] make less than $15,000 a year.