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Skewed SUNY Report on Downstate Hospital is an Insult to Central Brooklyn Community

The recent report issued by the State University of New York about SUNY Downstate Hospital is a 'sham.'
Attendees at a rally to save SUNY Downstate Hospital from closure.

The recently released report by the State University of New York, which was intended to gauge community interest in the plan to shutter SUNY Downstate University Hospital, is a total sham. The report was compiled behind closed doors and there is no doubt it was contrived only to back SUNY’s ill-conceived vision for the future of Brooklyn’s only public teaching hospital.  

The report was cobbled together in haste to gather community input more than a month after SUNY Chancellor John King announced a plan to shutter the facility, following intense and immediate opposition from the community. SUNY’s plan would move services—such as Brooklyn’s only kidney transplant center—to other hospitals and cram what’s left into a wing of the Kings County Hospital Center, which is located across the street.  

If the Chancellor and SUNY cared about what the community thinks, they would have included residents, staff, and local leaders in conversations before they announced plans to shut down our hospital. We know the community doesn’t want SUNY Downstate to close because we’ve asked them and they have told us multiple times, face-to-face. 

Last week, more than 50 faith and community leaders came out strongly against the plan to close Downstate. In a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, the leaders—including from the Brooklyn chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Caribbean Women’s Health Association, Kings Against Violence Initiative, and the Brooklyn Movement Center, demanded the closure plan be abandoned.  

On March 7, 16 Downstate department chairs—14 of whom are medical doctors—issued a four-page statement stating their concerns over the hospital’s closure and its impact on patients. They said the health care received by central Brooklyn residents would be “drastically compromised” if the hospital closes, and that the closure would be “devastating” to Downstate’s medical school. 

Two days earlier, the American Federation of Teachers released a report that found central Brooklyn residents who use Downstate Hospital overwhelmingly oppose SUNY’s plan to close the facility. The report said 71% of respondents were against the closure and 54% were strongly opposed to closing it. By a wide margin, community members said shutting down the hospital would be “catastrophic.”

We shut down Clarkson Avenue on Feb. 29 and held a rally that drew more than 1,200 people including a long list of legislators and Brooklyn faith leaders—like Rev. Al Sharpton, Bishop Orlando Findlayter and state Senator Zellnor Myrie—who demanded that Downstate remain open. 

We held a rally at the state capitol on Feb. 6 with busloads of Downstate Hospital workers and residents who joined together with several labor unions to tell the Chancellor and Governor we will not stand for their closure plan.

The community has told us over and over again, loud and clear: Brooklyn needs Downstate.

Meanwhile, the focus groups that SUNY relied on for “community input” were invite-only. They weren’t publicized nor were they open to the media. Without public scrutiny and open public discourse, SUNY was free to collect data in a very secretive and controlled way.

The SUNY survey distributed to Brooklyn residents was complicated and structurally problematic. SUNY said it sent the survey to 36,000 people in Downstate’s service area but only received 1,049 responses—a paltry response rate of just 2.9%. 

The entire process, from the start, has been an insult to the people of central Brooklyn. 

More than 400,000 patients are treated at Downstate Hospital each year. Most of them are on Medicaid, are underinsured, or have no health insurance. Brooklyn community members have spoken out loudly in support of keeping Downstate open. It’s time for the Chancellor and Governor to listen.

Frederick E. Kowal is the president of the United University Professions (UUP), a union that represents more than 2,300 workers at SUNY Downstate.