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Rallying to Save a NY Teaching Hospital

May 10, 2013

NEW YORK – With a march, a rally and a church service, a coalition of community leaders on Thursday called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to save the financially troubled SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Clergy and labor leaders, patient advocates, local politicians and TV commentator Rev. Al Sharpton say losing the facility will hit central Brooklyn especially hard.

By many accounts, the hospital has been mismanaged for a long time, but the demonstrators say workers and patients aren't to blame.

Andy Pallotta, vice president of the state teachers' union, says Downstate serves central Brooklyn, an area with more than 2.5 million residents, about a quarter of them living in poverty.

"That is part of the reason why they're in financial difficulties,” he says. “It's because many of the people that they serve are poor."

The teaching hospital turns out medical professionals, many of them minorities. A report in the New York Daily News says Cuomo sent a letter this week to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for quick action on a waiver request to shift funding in an effort to save the hospital and three others.

Cuomo's letter reportedly says, "If nothing is done within the next 12 months, the outcome will be disastrous."

Pallotta says the money better come from somewhere.

"Whether that's legislators, whether that's the office of the governor, whether that's federal money,” he says. “Wherever that money needs to come from, their community is in jeopardy because of these cuts."

More than 60 percent of the workers at SUNY Downstate reside in Brooklyn and Pallotta says the facility contributes to the economy of the community.

"They have already pink-slipped a lot of workers here,” he says. “What we're trying to avert here and what the faith community and labor and patient advocates, community members are trying to stop is further cutbacks of these services coming to the community."

The protestors say that in neighborhoods surrounding the hospital, death rates from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and HIV/AIDS are especially high, and closing the facility would cause serious harm.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY