Hundreds rally to save SUNY Downstate Hospital

January 15, 2013 Denise Romano
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Hundreds of workers, community activists and members of faith communities from Brooklyn and throughout New York State rallied in Albany to protect SUNY Downstate Medical Center and maintain the services it provides to the borough.

They also met with state senators, assemblymembers and legislative staff to ask for their support in upcoming legislation to keep Downstate available to the public. There are reports that Downstate is poised to “restructure,” which could result in thousands of job losses as well as limiting the health care options of the 400,000 patients who are served each year by the hospital.

This is a hot-button issue for Southwest Brooklynites, some of whom virtually have no emergency room for miles since the closure of Victory Memorial Hospital. Many rely on the SUNY Downstate urgent care facility, at the Victory site, but, that said, it is only open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is not properly equipped to be considered an emergency room.

“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,” said New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “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 that provide their care.”

In addition, Downstate supporters contend that these facilities are even more crucial, since SUNY Downstate Medical Center cared for patients displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Patients from the evacuated Coney Island Hospital were transferred to Downstate.

Bill Guarinello, former chair of Victory Memorial Hospital’s board, said that when the urgent care facility first opened at the former Victory site, there was a promise that it would be open 24/7.

“I am sure they are taking a financial beating. They only have the money to keep it open until 9 p.m. What do we do overnight?” he told this paper. “Downstate was willing to invest money, thinking people would come back…but that’s not going to happen. People won’t travel down here to use facilities.”

Guarinello added that possibly the Department of Health should look into beefing up the only existing emergency rooms in the area, Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park and Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, because they are “inundated” with patients.

“We have been trying to deal with this for years. Anything to alleviate the stress on our two hospitals [would be beneficial],” he said. “There is no money for a full blown emergency room there [at Downstate], so let’s get the best we can possibly get here.”

Ron Najman, director of communications and special projects for SUNY Downstate, declined to comment.

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