The Ailing Hospitals of East Flatbush


A flyer at the Community Board 17, imploring the residents of East Flatbush to appeal to the governor against the closing of the SUNY Downstate hospital.

It is clear from the image at left that rumors are rife about the potential shutting down of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This flyer from Community Board 17 of the East Flatbush area describes the condition of the cash strapped hospital. A combination of inefficiency in management, plunging medical reimbursements and bankruptcy has put them in the current state. SUNY Downstate hospital that partnered with Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in 2011, has been grappling to keep the operations of both LICH and Downstate in place. People working in the hospital say that it has added extra pressure on Downstate to run smoothly after the merger.

The situation with Downstate has become common in Brooklyn where a lot of hospitals in the borough are struggling financially. The issue became the center of Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio’s campaign who even got arrested while protesting against the shuttering of these medical facilities namely LICH in Cobble Hill and Interfaith in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area. The issue has been big on his agenda and he has also announced a tour ‘Save Our Hospitals’ where he will be visiting all the ailing hospitals in Brooklyn. Jumaane Williams, the city councilman of district 45 that covers various parts of Brooklyn including East Flatbush says in an email that shutting down SUNY Downstate “would eliminate more than 200 jobs at a time when our economy is struggling to recover from the great recession. The state must find a way to help SUNY Downstate become fully solvent so that it can continue to serve residents and keep our community healthy and safe.”

Downstate has a huge catchment area that serves the East Flatbush community and if the hospital shuts down then it would result in the disruption of health care to many low-income groups and senior citizens that depend on Medicaid and Medicare respectively. This will also add pressure on the city run Kings County Hospital, which is across the street from Downstate. “A lot of people depend on coming to these hospitals with their kids and a lot of old people come here too. We don’t want it (hospitals) to shut. Poor, unemployed and immigrants will face a lot of problems,” says Dahalia Wilson, a resident of the community.

There are many reasons as to why the hospitals in Brooklyn are facing the financial crunch. According to a report by the Berger Commission, which was released in 2011 and available online, the residents of Brooklyn, with private insurance, prefer to go to the Manhattan hospitals for “high end surgical care” while over-burdening the emergency unit of Brooklyn hospitals. The low-income groups avoid seeking long-term medical care in the Brooklyn run hospitals because of the high cost. “Brooklyn faces daunting population health challenges, almost 30 percent of Brooklyn’s hospitals beds are vacant on an average day given the low occupancy levels, modest reductions in preventable hospitalizations and lengths of stay would permit the elimination of 1,235 beds.” Another important point that was made by the commission was “Healthcare reforms at the federal and state levels demand a fundamental change in the clinical, organizational and financial paradigm for these institutions to permit them to participate effectively in new models of integrated care that emphasize prevention, care coordination, and performance and produce real value for individual patients and the community.”

The closing of one hospital may create a domino effect and subsequently all the hospitals in the area will have to bear the brunt. Not to forget the inconvenience it’ll cause to all the residents living in the area.

As of now the recent Supreme Court ruling has stopped the closing of LICH,  for the moment, citing that the state Department of Health (DoH) regulations for closing hospitals were “unconstitutionally vague.” Meanwhile the murky situation of  Brooklyn’s hospitals has left both residents and hospital employees still worried.