Blast from the pastMarch 7, 2024 — The past has come back to haunt New York City’s only state-run hospital. A recent proposal by SUNY Chancellor John King seeks to “transform” SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which would effectively close the hospital and farm out some of its services to other healthcare providers in the city. The impact would be devastating in Central Brooklyn, where Downstate is the fourth largest employer and the primary healthcare option for the borough’s low-income Medicaid patients. 

It’s all eerily similar to 2012. 

In March of that year, PEF took to the streets to protest plans to close Kingsboro Psychiatric Center and SUNY Downstate. Hundreds of PEF members, led by then PEF President Ken Brynien, shared one message to the governor, the legislature and then Office of Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan: Stop the closures. 

“If Downstate were to close, it would create a health crisis in central Brooklyn,” said former PEF Downstate Council Leader Don Morgenstern, at the time. 

Then, as now, PEF focused efforts on making sure the community and State legislators knew the value of the work being done at Downstate, especially by PEF members. The State-run hospital is home to the only kidney transplant center in Brooklyn and offers specialized services such as cardiac and stroke care, oncology, and a level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. 

PEF President Wayne Spence was part of the fightback campaign in 2012, serving as a union vice president. 

“Staff at SUNY Downstate worked hard after being designated a COVID-only hospital,” Spence said at a rally at the State Capitol in Albany on Feb. 6 of this year. “But that would not have been possible if we didn’t fight to keep it open in 2012. 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!” 

It wasn’t until later in 2013 that the future of SUNY Downstate started to look up. The State legislature refused to introduce a bill from former Governor Andrew Cuomo that would have led to the privatization of the hospital. 

But since 2013, the State has refused to invest adequate money and resources into Downstate to help it flourish. And so history is repeating itself, as State officials cite the institution’s lack of funding as the reason why they released a hastily proposed plan that unions like United University Professionals (UUP) and PEF had no say in helping develop. 

Just like in 2012-2013, the solidarity from a multi-union coalition is what keeps the movement strong. 

“The coalition is strong, and we have all pledged to save SUNY Downstate,” Morgenstern said in 2013. 

The new coalition, called “Brooklyn Needs Downstate,” demands that the State reinvest in the facility, helping it provide the specialized care that the approximately 400 PEF members who work there help deliver to the community. 

Rallies and actions are planned throughout the month. PEF members can engage in two ways: Click here to send a letter to your State Senator and Assemblymember urging them to keep Downstate open, and visit UUP’s website to learn more about the campaign and stay informed about future events. 

Blast from the past article from March 2012
Click here to view the Communicator issue from March 2012.