Activists take protest to save hospitals to governor’s office

Several hundred hospital employees, members of two healthcare unions, and healthcare activists rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office on July 8 to demand a stop to any further hospital closings in Brooklyn.

Rally participants, who were locked inside a pen of metal police barricades, had assembled to put political pressure on Governor Cuomo to save two Brooklyn hospitals that are at risk of being closed: Long Island College Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center. At one point, the participants chanted, “No money, no votes.”

Charmayne Saddler-Walker, a nurse, addressed the rally participants about a widely shared sensibility among healthcare activists that politicians served Wall Street instead of important community institutions, such as hospitals. Several times, Ms. Saddler-Walker pointed her finger across the street to Governor Cuomo’s office building during her speech.

“We pay you to work for us,” Ms. Saddler-Walker said. “We need a moratorium on all hospital closures in Brooklyn and in the United States of America.”

Advocates for improving public health are increasingly making the connection that healthcare cuts and hospital closings are taking place across the country as part of austerity measures being enacted because government budgets are still being squeezed following the 2008 financial crisis.

Almost two years since the inception of Occupy Wall Street, activists continue to make the observation that financial corporations and moneyed special interests receive privileges from politicians, leaving the government’s diminished resources to provide for basic human rights, such as access to healthcare.

“And the thing that disturbs us the most, as we stand here today,” Ms. Saddler-Walker said of the people who would be impacted by the possible closings of the two Brooklyn hospitals, “is that they are low-income and people of color.”

Recent revelations reinforce the notion that politically well-connected corporations and developers receive preferential treatment from the government over the needs of individuals. The Rudin family, which stands to make several hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from the luxury condo conversion of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus, made over $200,000 in campaign contributions to many political candidates in the last two election cycles. Several of these politicians eventually had a say in approving the outcome of the Rudin family’s zone-busting permit application.

Two unions, the New York State Nurses Association and 1199 SEIU, sponsored the rally outside Governor Cuomo’s office. Among the invited speakers was mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who is currently the New York City Public Advocate. His mayoral candidacy was endorsed by 1199 SEIU.

Mr. de Blasio said that he joined the rally because hospital supporters had received no help from City Hall. After St. Vincent’s Hospital closed, Mayor Bloomberg just “walked away” from the community, Mr. de Blasio said.

With the closing of St. Vincent’s, the Lower West Side of Manhattan lost a critical Level I trauma center and strategic community resource. Community activists have been deeply concerned about the loss of St. Vincent’s, especially because the hospital had a charitable mission to serve the poor.

The effort to confront Governor Cuomo about the collapse of public health in New York City comes amid a mayoral election cycle during which politicians are hearing the displeasure from an increasingly angry electorate. For example, Mr. de Blasio was not visible in the fight to save St. Vincent’s, but pressure politics from the mayoral campaign has moved him into taking visible action on behalf of the troubled Brooklyn hospitals.

Since 2006, a total of 10 New York City hospitals have either closed or downsized, and several more hospitals have been identified for possible closure. Some astute political observers have said privately that they believe that Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to make large, indiscriminate healthcare cuts by closing entire hospitals in a desperate effort to window dress the state budget in preparation for a run for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race.

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