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Hospital Workers, Electeds Show Force in Rally to Save SUNY Downstate

The event to save the hospital attracted over a thousand supporters as the state begins a community outreach process surrounding their controversial transformation plan for the hospital.
Attendees at a rally to save SUNY Downstate Hospital from closure.

The fight to save SUNY Downstate Hospital intensified on Thursday, as a rally outside the central Brooklyn medical center drew a crowd of over a thousand people, including many hospital workers, activists, elected officials and community leaders.

The rally comes a month after the state unveiled plans to transform city's only state-run hospital, which houses the only kidney transplant center in Brooklyn. The event was organized by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and featured speeches from activist Al Sharpton, NYC Public Advocate Jumanee Williams, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and local faith leaders who spoke passionately about the borough’s need for the hospital.

“What the state should be doing is say thank you to SUNY Downstate, because during the pandemic, the state designated downstate as a COVID only hospital,” said Orlando Findlayter, pastor of the New Hope Christian Fellowship. “Brooklyn is alive because Downstate was alive.”

Sharpton said more money should be allocated to health care services in central Brooklyn.

“I was born and raised in Brownsville. And I know central Brooklyn all my life. We have had a derelict of medical and health supplies and places to take care of the health and needs of our community,” said Sharpton. “We find money in the federal government to take care of people all over the world and we should so now find the money to take care of people in central Brooklyn.”

Reverend Al Sharpton speaks at a rally to save SUNY Downstate Hospital from closure. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Announced in late January, the state committed $300 million to the “transformation” of SUNY Downstate, which will include moving inpatient services to a new Downstate wing at Kings County Hospital across the street. The plan was met with immediate pushback from the community, who said they were completely unaware of the proposed changes, which many consider to be a closure.

Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, who was not at the rally, recently introduced legislation to create a community advisory board surrounding the decisions at downstate.

“The board must represent the demographics of this historically Black and working-class neighborhood and include patients, healthcare workers, clergy, and local government leaders who reside in the surrounding community,”’ Cunningham said in a statement. “A transformation plan that is not informed by the needs of our community is an affront to racial and economic justice and an insult to the people of Central Brooklyn."

SUNY on Wednesday said they will invest $500 million total into the transformation, $200 million to avoid running out of cash by the summer and $300 million in capital dollars to go towards new facilities, according to news release. 

The statement released the day prior to the rally also included details of the state’s community engagement process for the hospital. They have released a survey open through March 22 to collect community input on the hospital’s future.

“Downstate is a gem of the SUNY system and a pillar of the community here in Central Brooklyn, and we need to reimagine how the institution operates in order to secure its future,” said SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. “We are inviting the community to share their concerns and aspirations to help us build a plan for a stronger Downstate based on the priorities and needs of the students and community we are proud to serve.”

Christopher Edwards

About the Author: Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a native Brooklynite and current student at Baruch College, majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing.
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