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NYSUT fights plan for drastic cuts to teaching hospital

A plan on the table in New York state to restructure a State University of New York teaching hospital would cut to the quick, hurting both a population that depends heavily on the facility's services and a local economy reeling from high unemployment and foreclosure rates. The SUNY Downstate Medical Center, located in Brooklyn, is the largest teaching hospital in the state—and one of the largest in the nation. It trains more minority physicians, and serves a population more low-income and vulnerable, than any other New York hospital.

SUNY officials are proposing a restructuring of Downstate that would have a staggering impact on Brooklyn's economy, says the New York State United Teachers, which represents some of the faculty and health professionals at the medical center. More than half of the medical center's 8,000 employees live in Brooklyn.

Last year, NYSUT tried to fight off a 50 percent funding cut to the hospital. Now, if the hospital is closed, "homes will be lost, small businesses will shut down and jobs for our youth will disappear," says NYSUT.

Further, the state will lose a significant academic medical facility. Downstate's College of Medicine, College of Nursing and School of Public Health educate more than 1,600 primarily minority students annually. More than 80 percent of Downstate alumni remain in New York and provide vital services to patients in New York City. Downstate provides care for nearly 400,000 patients each year, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured.

NYSUT is using public advocacy tools to raise alarms about what is at stake. It is placing ads and telling its members and the public to contact state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (New York residents can add their voice to the chorus.)

Also, SUNY alumni and other concerned citizens can contact SUNY board of trustees chairman H. Carl McCall and SUNY chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "Tell them to put Central Brooklyn residents first," says Rowena Blackman-Stroud, president of the Downstate Medical Center Chapter of United University Professions. "Abandon this restructuring plan." [Barbara McKenna, Denyce Duncan Lacy]

May 25, 2012