Health care unions protest ouster of One Brooklyn Health CEO LaRay Brown

BP Reynoso: "For all we know, these hospitals could shut down in a week."

September 27, 2023 Mary Frost
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Brooklyn officials, faith leaders and health care union members gathered on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall Wednesday morning to protest the sudden ouster of LaRay Brown, CEO and president of the One Brooklyn Health network, and the lack of communication from OBH’s board about the future of the financially-strained hospital group.

OBH includes Brookdale Hospital Medical Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, hospitals which largely serve neighborhoods of color in Central and Eastern Brooklyn.

Advocates said OBH Board Chair Alexander Rovt, described by the unions  as a “billionaire real estate investor and political donor,” orchestrated the removal of Brown without any input from the community or union partners who have played a central role in OBH’s transformation plan. The move threatens to destabilize health care delivery in Brooklyn’s underserved neighborhoods, they said.

Brooklyn BP Antonio Reynoso (center), Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (left), and Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse, chair of the Committee on Hospitals, were among those who showed their support for OBH CEO LaRay Brown on Wednesday. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Brown has served as OBH president and CEO since 2017. According to OBH’s website, she was instrumental in founding One Brooklyn Health System. She also currently serves as the president and CEO of Interfaith Medical Center, a position to which she was appointed in February 2016.

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Officials and union representatives from 1199 SEIU, NYSNA and CIR SEIU want Gov. Kathy Hochul to intervene to reform the board and promote transparency.

A “conglomerate of groups” originally came together to form OBH, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said at the rally. “It was the community, it was the patients, it was the hospital, it was the unions, it was elected officials, it was religious leaders. There wasn’t anyone who was left off the table in helping build OBH.”

Embattled One Brooklyn Health CEO LaRay Brown. Photo: OBH

Now, however, “That aura of collaboration seems to have disappeared,” he said. “The board of OBH has unilaterally decided to make decisions”  that are going to affect communities, patients and workers.

OBH’s board has not communicated with local officials, Reynoso said, leaving them in the dark about the hospitals’ future funding needs, he said. “For all we know, these hospitals could shut down in a week.”

According to a report last week in Crain’s New York Business, OBH’s board voted 10-4 (with three abstentions) to not renew Brown’s contract amid accusations of financial mismanagement, which she has challenged on the grounds “that One Brooklyn, like other safety-net hospitals, has well-documented challenges in terms of financing.” Health care workers union 1199 SEIU alleged  that Brown’s ouster was done “behind closed doors.”

Brooklyn BP Antonio Reynoso (left), Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse (center) and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry greet each other at Wednesday’s One Brooklyn Health rally. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“The foundational principles of One Brooklyn Health have always been transparency and a collective commitment to the health and wellness of our Brooklyn residents. The sudden ousting of Ms. LaRay Brown without community and labor input is concerning,” said Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse, chair of the Committee on Hospitals.

“We demand that Gov. Hochul ensure proper oversight, reform the board, and make real investments in safety-net institutions to ensure that all Brooklyn residents have access to the quality healthcare they deserve,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU.

Other speakers included Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, NYSNA RN Ari Moma, Dr. Colleen Achong representing Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) SEIU, state Sen. Roxanne Persaud, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, and Assemblymembers Brian Cunningham and Stefani Zinerman. 

Rovt was described by The Daily Beast in 2021 as a “reclusive billionaire” (fertilizer, real estate) who has funneled millions of dollars to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, currently-indicted former President Donald Trump and currently-indicted attorney Rudy Giuliani. 

But he is also known as a philanthropist who has donated to Orthodox Jewish institutions including Touro’s Lander College of Arts & Sciences in Flatbush and the Zvi Dov Roth Academy in Brooklyn.

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