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PEF Supports Clergy Fast to Save SUNY Downstate

Religious leaders from various faiths, union members and dozens of parishioners and residents of Brooklyn began 48 hours of fasting and prayer Sunday, March 9th, with a rally and news conference aimed at protecting the vital health care services that SUNY Downstate Medical Center provides.

March 9, 2014
Interfaith clergy in Brooklyn rally, start 48-hour fast to protect vital health care services at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

BROOKLYN – The SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders, a grassroots organization of Brooklyn-area religious groups, community organizations and unions, organized the fast. The coalition has been fighting for nearly two years to keep Downstate a full-service, public teaching hospital. The group is calling on the state Legislature to increase the state’s funding for Downstate in the new state budget that takes effect on April 1.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined the rally, urging lawmakers to defend the life-saving health care services the hospital provides and preserve the jobs of thousands of Downstate workers. AFT is affiliated with United University Professions (UUP) and the Public Employees Federation (PEF), two of the unions that represent workers at Downstate.

“This is a fight about reclaiming the promise America made to provide quality healthcare to low- and middle-income families, not just the well-to-do. Investing in SUNY Downstate and University Hospital of Brooklyn is the right prescription for Brooklyn,” Weingarten said.

Coalition leaders praised the major role Downstate plays in the community, and encouraged supporters to sign a petition urging the governor to take action to keep Downstate as a public, fully operating institution of teaching and healing.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder to protect our community that relies on SUNY Downstate for its well-being,” said Pastor Gilford Monrose of Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day. “The residents of Central Brooklyn must have Downstate remain a full-service, public hospital.”

“We as clergy are proud to support our community by fasting to bring attention to their urgent need for accessible health care and the jobs Downstate brings that help our economy,” said Elder Wilmouth Seaton of Brooklyn Community Church.
“This has been a long battle, but we are going to continue to fight – and fight hard – to ensure that SUNY Downstate remains a strong public hospital. The state must provide the necessary support so SUNY Downstate can continue to offer vital health services to the people of Brooklyn, and retain its place as an essential medical education center,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, UUP’s statewide affiliate. “I am once again proud to join with the faith community and others in participating in this fast to raise awareness about the importance of SUNY Downstate to its community, especially those who are currently under-served by the state’s health care system.”

“We are here today to protect the vital health care services and the jobs of thousands of dedicated employees at SUNY Downstate Medical Center,” said United University Professions President Fred Kowal. “This hospital is a beacon of hope for Central Brooklyn residents, who depend on it for life-saving services from kidney dialysis treatments to neonatal care and special units for children with congenital heart defects. We call upon the Legislature to restore and enhance state support for this place of healing.”

“This fast is significant because it represents the determination of the clergy, supported by labor and the community, to keep the doors of SUNY Downstate Medical Center open,” said New York State Public Employees Federation President Susan M. Kent. “Thousands of people in Brooklyn rely on this public hospital. It needs to stay open as a fully staffed health care facility and teaching center. PEF applauds the clergy who are fasting and taking this fight to a higher level.”

“Cutting vital health care services at Downstate would reduce the quality and accessibility of health care for hundreds of thousands of patients—many of whom are underinsured or uninsured, and many more who are aged or very sick,” said CSEA statewide Secretary Denise Berkley.

“SUNY Downstate’s medical school is a pipeline for future doctors and medical professionals to hospitals in Brooklyn and New York City,” said UUP Downstate Chapter President and statewide Treasurer Rowena Blackman-Stroud. “One of every three Brooklyn doctors is a Downstate graduate, and more New York City doctors graduated from Downstate than from any other medical school. Increasing state funding to SUNY Downstate will protect the future of the medical school and the future of the health professionals they educate.”

“SUNY Downstate is a critical component to the Brooklyn economy,” said Lester Crocket, CSEA President for the Metropolitan Region. “SUNY is Brooklyn’s fourth largest employer and 60 percent of its workers live in the borough. Their economic contribution, especially during these austere times, is unparalleled. SUNY workers create over $2 billion in economic activity annually, leading to a $12 return on investment for every dollar that the state invests in SUNY Downstate.”

Several other clergy leaders also spoke, including Bishop Orlando Findlayter of New Hope Christian Fellowship, chairman of Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH); Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director, Crown Heights Jewish Community Council; and Pastor Shane Vidal of Maranatha Seventh Day Adventist Church

Several state legislators and Joy Williams of the Brooklyn NAACP also spoke at the rally.

The fasting clergy members are staying in a trailer parked outside Downstate’s 470 Clarkson Avenue entrance. A second trailer is also on site to give shelter to Central Brooklyn residents and congregation members gathered to support the fasters.

The clergy leaders will provide an update on their fast on Monday at 3 p.m. They will conduct a news conference at the conclusion of the fast on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

The SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders is a Brooklyn-based grassroots organization collectively fighting for vital health care services and jobs at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

UUP represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty on 29 New York state-operated campuses, including nearly 3,000 members at SUNY Downstate. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.

PEF is the state’s largest white-collar union representing 54,000 members in professional, scientific and technical positions, including about 650 members at Downstate.

CSEA is New York State’s leading union, representing about 300,000 employees of the state and its counties, towns, villages, school districts, library systems, authorities and public benefit corporations. CSEA represents nearly 800 workers at SUNY Downstate