Over 200 medical professionals, local activists and everyday constituents came together outside of Congressmember Dan Donovan’s district office on 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights on Saturday, February 25 for the third protest in 10 days, the goal of which was to make the congressmember aware of his constituents’ support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
According to participant Dr. Cameron Page, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, the Dyker Heights rally was sort of a tale of two protests.
“It was a nice combination of medical professionals and just ordinary citizens,” said Page, who was there to rally alongside health professionals from Mount Sinai, Montefiore, NYU and other health institutions in support of the ACA, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood.
Once there, Page and his colleagues joined forces with other protesters, brought together by a local chapter of the New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), to, yet again, demand a face-to-face with Donovan, as well as in support of the ACA.
Donovan, who represents Staten Island as well as Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, has yet to hold a formal, in-person town hall with his constituents in Brooklyn and has instead, made use of phone-in town halls that constituents have claimed have too many kinks to be considered sufficient — so much so that protesters plastered “missing” posters for Donovan around his district. These posters, reps said, have also been seen in other districts across the nation.
“There was a call to organize town hall meetings and [we thought] well, if the congressman wasn’t having one, then we’ll have to put them on ourselves,” said George Albro, a founding member of NYPAN who grew up just outside Donovan’s current district lines at 70th Street and 16th Avenue and organized Saturday’ event. “It was a great event with a great turnout. You know, I don’t remember a demonstration in over 40 years but now we’ve had five,” including others held away from Donovan’s Dyker office.
“The most interesting part of all of this were these different groups with different purposes coming together and sort of intentionally meeting each other,” added Page. “It was a great way to share ideas and stories.”
For Page and his colleagues, the protest was one of 20 in at least 15 cities across the country in which medical professionals protested outside of their respective elected officials’ offices demanding that members of Congress keep the Affordable Care Act, as well as Medicaid.
“The night before the protest, I had an overnight shift during which a woman came in who’d had a stroke a few months earlier,” said Page, stressing that this woman – who’d been sent home from her Medicaid-paid rehab which she went to from her Medicaid-paid hospital stay – was still very weak, and had trouble taking care of herself, and even going to the bathroom on her own. “Medicaid paid for a nurse to come and visit her in her home, but there’s just not enough money to cover 24-hour care. She came to the ER, not because she had a medical problem, but because she was soiling herself and needed basic help.
“I’m worried that, [losing the ACA and Medicaid] we’re going to get even less care,” Page went on. “How do I tell this woman, and patients of this kind, that they’re not going to get six hours a day – which right now isn’t enough – they’re going to get two.”
Part of a national health professionals’ day of demonstration, the rally took place at the same time as the Congressional February Recess, a period during which representatives return to their home states. Despite this, Donovan was a no-show at both the Dyker Heights rally, and one that took place at the same time outside of his district office in Staten Island.
Medical professionals argue that repeal of the ACA will leave a $4 billion hole in the budget of New York State, and in turn, take healthcare services away from the elderly and the disabled, as well as some of the state’s sickest patients.
Donovan’s reps, however, contest that protesters have nothing to worry about, as the congressmember’s stance has “never changed” in that he does not want to pull the rug out from underneath his constituents, and will not repeal the ACA if there is no proper replacement coming down the pipeline.
“Congressman Donovan has always been committed to delivering real solutions that provide quality and affordable healthcare, especially to those who are most vulnerable,” said Alexia Sikora, Donovan’s press secretary. “His focus – which has unfortunately been overlooked by many – has been repairing the system to protect those who received coverage under the law, while helping those who’ve been burdened with limited choices and soaring premiums. Donovan will continue supporting reforms that create a working and stable healthcare system, and he remains dedicated to ensuring that the rug will not be pulled out from millions of Americans.”
In addition, Sikora, citing the tele-town halls as well as recent meetings with constituents, some of whom have protested him, contends that the idea that Donovan is “missing” is “completely false.”
However, Albro celebrated Donovan’s stance on the ACA as if it were new.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the congressman will vote against a straight out repeal without a replacement,” he said. “The devil’s in the details, but we’re pleased because I think that, even a couple of weeks ago, that was unthinkable.”
Local constituent and City Council candidate Justin Brannan – who was also on hand for the event – agreed, calling the congressmember’s claims a win for those who have rallied.
“This victory proves that organizing and activism works. Now, more than ever, it’s important to stand up for our right as citizens to have access to quality healthcare,” he told this paper. “We must remain vigilant at a time when this administration is looking to roll back these rights and everything accomplished over the past eight years. Moving forward, we can definitely find ways to improve the ACA, but repealing it outright will only put people’s lives at risk. We need to move forward, never backward.”
Committees in the House of Representatives are said to be considering legislation to repeal and replace the ACA as early as this month.