OPINION: Keep SUNY Downstate open and public

February 27, 2014 By Frederick E. Kowal For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Each day, thousands of people depend on SUNY Downstate Medical Center for emergency medical care and vital health care services.

But this state-operated public hospital has been in danger of being closed or privatized for more than two years. Hundreds of jobs have been lost, and numerous health care services have been cut or curtailed due to the hospital’s ill-prepared “Sustainability Plan.” 

Now, there is language in the 2014-15 proposed state budget that would open the door to as many as five corporations to operate SUNY’s public hospitals. 

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United University Professions, the union that represents nearly 3,000 employees at SUNY Downstate, has been fighting to keep SUNY Downstate a fully operational state-run facility. However, UUP isn’t fighting the battle alone. 

The SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders—a grassroots organization made up of concerned Brooklyn clergy, community leaders, UUP and other unions—has become an important ally. The Coalition has staged a number of rallies and protests over the past 18 months to save health care services and jobs at SUNY Downstate and to keep it a public facility. 

The latest such effort is a 48-hour interfaith fast. It will begin Sunday, March 9, at 3 p.m., in front of Downstate’s 470 Clarkson Avenue entrance. Interfaith leaders and members of the community will participate in the fast to show their strong support for this beacon in Brooklyn and call attention to the threats it faces. 

You can find out more about it by calling 718-270-1519, or sending an email to [email protected]. Take part in the fast, or come out and show your support.

The threats facing SUNY Downstate are real. The SUNY Board of Trustees has openly discussed the possibility of closing SUNY Downstate. There is also language in the Executive Budget, which would allow corporations to control SUNY’s public hospitals; one corporation must affiliate with an academic medical institution or teaching hospital. SUNY Downstate has Brooklyn’s only teaching hospital. 

Privatizing or closing SUNY Downstate as a way for the state to save dollars is shortsighted and unnecessary. We believe the answer to Brooklyn’s health care shortcomings lies in the “Brooklyn Hospitals Safety Net Plan,” a UUP-backed initiative to stabilize and deliver health care throughout Brooklyn. Dr. Fred Hyde, a renowned health care expert and professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, authored the plan. 

This plan has the Coalition’s support, as well as backing from the American Federation of Teachers, the New York State United Teachers, the Civil Service Employees Association, and the Public Employees Federation. It would preserve SUNY Downstate and save several financially unstable hospitals in Brooklyn, including Interfaith Medical Center, Brookdale, Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. 

You can see the proposal online at http://www.brooklynhospitalplan.org.

It calls for the creation of a network of satellite ambulatory care centers, and would be controlled by and affiliated with 14 other Brooklyn hospitals. Downstate would be the network’s hub, educating and supplying physicians and medical staff to the care centers and working with doctors at the other hospitals. 

It’s a simple, effective plan and, if given a chance, it will work.

New York has a responsibility to provide for the health care needs of its citizens. The Brooklyn Hospitals Safety Net Plan—our plan and the community’s plan—is a viable, workable option for long-term health care in Brooklyn.

That’s something that Brooklyn residents desperately need.
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Frederick E. Kowal is president of United University Professions, the union representing 35,000 faculty and professional staff at SUNY’s 29 state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Long Island and Syracuse.   

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