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LICH is just one battle in the war to save Brooklyn hospitals, say protestors

Rallies and protests in support of keeping Long Island College Hospital (LICH) open continued this week, but LICH wasn’t the only hospital represented. Protest signs, banners and chants also called for the saving of Interfaith Medical Center and even SUNY Downstate Medical Center – all three hospitals serving as cornerstones of the Brooklyn hospital system and key resources to their respective communities in Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Flatbush.

“We have the same administrators, so what they’re doing to LICH, they’re going to do to us as well, closing and possibly downsizing. We see it as the same fight,” said one registered nurse from SUNY Downstate, who wished to remain anonymous in order to safeguard her job.

“We’ve been on a hiring freeze for a couple of years and are just cut to the bone in there,” she added, noting that patients – some of them very sick – have been transferred to SUNY Downstate from LICH following the virtual closure of LICH’s emergency room on June 20. “I’m very worried because it seems like so far [health care] reform favors big companies. . . it is putting hospitals like LICH and SUNY at risk.”

The nurse was just one of dozens of people who expressed variations of the same concern at a noontime rally outside SUNY Downstate on Monday, July 15, where doctors, nurses, patients, neighbors, and elected officials loudly maintained that they would “fight back” against any attempt to close or otherwise incapacitate their hospitals.

“An injustice to one is an injustice to all,” said Cheryl Thom-Bumpus, who is part of the medical staff at Interfaith Medical Center. Councilmember Letitia James, who is running for Public Advocate this November, agreed.

“Hands of our hospitals,” declared James. “Like the closure of schools, it is not acceptable to close hospitals. If we can give millions to [real estate] developers and [build] an arena, we can give to our hospitals. . .We need an emergency infusion of money now.”

James added that Brooklyn hospitals are a resource not only for health care, but also for jobs.

“It is critically important to stand with SEIU 1199 and the NYS Nurses Association for the local economy,” James said. “All of these people are from low and middle-income families and we can ill afford [losing] middle class jobs.”

James was joined on July 15 by fellow elected officials Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Mathieu Eugene in her support of resident’s calls for Governor Andrew Cuomo to both intervene in SUNY’s actions regarding LICH and re-fund Brooklyn hospitals.

For everyone involved in the Save LICH and Save Interfaith communities, “we know it’s a matter of life or death,” said Jeff Strabone, who is a board member of the Cobble Hill Association, which has been advocating on behalf of LICH for months.

“People will die in crowded emergency rooms or ambulances,” Strabone, who was one of 15 people arrested at a protest at SUNY’s Midtown offices on July 10. “This is a tipping point. It stoops with us. We’re not going to let it happen.”

The July 15 rally outside SUNY Downstate was just one of several that took place this week. Others included an event on the Brooklyn Bridge—where Assemblymember Joan Millman was arrested for blocking traffic—and events at Interfaith and up in Albany.

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