Fight to save Brooklyn’s health care
DISCUSSION TIME — Health care providers from Brooklyn listen to a plan for action.
Assembly Member Vito Lopez emphasizes the need to maintain mental health care in central Brooklyn.
Story and photos by DEBORAH A. MILES
PEF is putting up a passionate fight and pulling out all the stops to preserve health care services in Brooklyn.
The reason for the fight is the state’s plans to close Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, close beds at SUNY Downstate University Hospital, and shift its inpatient operations to the Long Island College Hospital campus.
These plans would cripple mental health care in central Brooklyn and diminish emergency care.
Brooklyn is the single highest user of mental health services in the state. If Kingsboro shuts down, Kings County will be without long-term mental health services for its mentally ill residents.
The union has been fighting hard to reverse the state’s decision.
The first effort came January 11 when hundreds of Brooklyn’s health care providers rallied and chanted in front of the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott where Stephen Berger, an investment banker behind the closure plans, was participating in a forum on Brooklyn’s hospitals.
PEF Vice President Pat Baker listens to Assembly Member Nick Perry at a legislative roundtable meeting January 24 in Albany.
The union’s next move was a visit to state legislators. PEF Vice President Pat Baker, Region 11 Coordinator Jemma Marie-Hanson and Kingsboro’s council leader, Jasmine Wilson-LaFond, along with dozens of members who were bused to Albany from Brooklyn, spoke with lawmakers January 24.
Baker told more than a dozen state Assembly and Senate members brought together by Assembly Member Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, “The closing of Kingsboro is a huge mistake. Services and jobs are at stake. We need to take action, and we need to take it now.”
As a result, a task force was formed by Lopez and state Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn with leaders from PEF and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA).
Baker said the task force has been meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Until the state budget is signed, PEF can fight this,” Baker said. “The Legislature can amend Article 7 bills, which may include Kingsboro. This is only the beginning of our fight.”
STARTING THE FIGHT BACK — More than 50 nurses and other health care workers came to the Legislative Office Building in Albany January 24 to speak to legislators about saving health care services in Brooklyn.
Wilson-LaFond and Don Morgenstern, PEF council leader from SUNY Downstate, organized union volunteers to blanket the central Brooklyn area with fliers about the plans to close beds and shift services to Staten Island.
Twenty-five thousand fliers were distributed in mid-February to business owners, residents and local churches.
Morgenstern explained why Brooklynites need to get involved.
“If Downstate’s emergency room is closed, it’s not an overstatement to say some people may die. This is exactly the type of community that needs government services. It is not an area the state should abandon,” he said.
PEF, along with CSEA and United University Professions, designed and placed ads in nearly a dozen Brooklyn newspapers, and on billboards in bus shelters near Kingsboro and SUNY Downstate.
“We need to get the message out every way we can,” Marie-Hanson said. “People in the community need to know what is happening and what they can do to help.”
One member who became aware of the fight-back is working on a nationwide petition on change.org.
Another rally was held with CSEA members in front of Berger’s Manhattan office building February 8 that attracted NY1 and other media outlets. Another rally may be held in March.
Baker also testified February 14 at a joint budget hearing on mental hygiene. Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan was the first to testify and was grilled by legislators about the closing of Kingsboro and its ramifications. Hogan pointed out Kingsboro had failed Medicare and Medicaid certification.
“The state is inching its way to privatizing everything,” Baker said. “I worked as a social worker for more than 30 years at Kingsboro. The people there are dedicated and devoted. The problems for certification arise from the administrators. They let the place get run down by not giving it the resources it needs. Kingsboro needs the right managers who have a vision to best serve the residents and community with ongoing training and who can provide solutions to problems. There’s no reason to kill Kingsboro. Just fix it.”
After the hearing, a Staten Island newspaper ran an article that said Hogan has since agreed to tread slowly, referring to closing Kingsboro, after lawmakers expressed concern during recent budget hearings.
“We may be making progress,” Baker said. “However we remain diligent in this fight to save needed health care in Brooklyn.
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