UUP Rally
A crowd of UUP, PEF, SEIU and other union members line the Million Dollar Staircase in protest of the plan to close SUNY Downstate.

February 20, 2023 —
PEF President Wayne Spence joined hundreds of UUP and PEF members, along with leaders from AFT, the New York State AFL-CIO, NYSUT and several legislators at the New York State Capitol on Feb. 6 to call on the state to stop the closure of SUNY Downstate Hospital. The rally is in response to a “Transformation Plan” for the hospital that was made public as part of the budget negotiation process.

UUP Rally
PEF President Wayne Spence takes the podium at the rally.

The decision came as a surprise, even for many members of the State Legislature.  

At the height of the pandemic, SUNY Downstate was designated a “COVID-only” hospital and cared for thousands of patients in 2020 and 2021. Members expressed their disappointment with the decision after they were so loudly hailed as heroes during the pandemic.  

“Our community walked past refrigerator trucks full of dead people during COVID. SUNY Downstate was the only COVID hospital and our nurses and doctors got sick,” said New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie. “How dare the state have the temerity to close SUNY Downstate!” 

President Spence said that this isn’t the first time unions have had to have this fight. In 2012, then-Governor Cuomo initiated a similar plan to close the hospital citing similar budget concerns. PEF and other unions, alongside many legislators, fought back against the closure of the hospital and won. Now, President Spence says, history is repeating itself. 

“Staff at SUNY Downstate worked hard after being designated a COVID-only hospital. But that may not have been possible if we didn’t fight to keep it open in 2012,” Spence said in his remarks. “How many people would’ve died without SUNY Downstate? Thank God, we got it right. So why are we here again to fight for this hospital and this community? Shame!” 

SUNY Downstate is the only state-run hospital in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. It is also a public teaching hospital that treats all patients, especially those who are on Medicaid, are underinsured or uninsured. The hospital trains the highest number of Black and minority healthcare professionals in the country. Additionally, SUNY Downstate provides specialized care that other area hospitals do not — such as Brooklyn’s only kidney transplant program. 

President Spence said that he’s received assurances no PEF members will lose their jobs if the plan is carried out, but UUP members could see their staffing cut by as much as 20 percent. In addition to potential job losses, a transitioning of services to other area hospitals would put many patients at risk of having their treatment disrupted or terminated. 

Spence joined his fellow union leaders and lawmakers and demanded a “voice at the table” before any final plan is created. Neither the unions that represent staff at the hospital nor members of the community were consulted about the “transition plan,” and there still is nothing in writing outlining exactly what will be done and when.  

Spence pledged PEF’s support as the campaign continues to save the healthcare heart of Brooklyn. 

“We have stood together to save SUNY Downstate before,” he said. “We will do it again!”