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New York: Health Workers Rally To Save Kingsboro Hospital

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NY Health Workers Rally To Save Kingsboro Psychiatric Center in Brooklyn

By Dennis Kabatto

Approximately, 300 employees at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center and SUNY’s Downstate University Hospital of Brooklyn were joined by elected officials, trade unionists and community activists to protest against the proposed closure of the psychiatric center.

The protesters, an amalgam of New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), United University Professions (UUP) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) employees, marched in solidarity for about two hours on Clarkson Avenue in Brooklyn from Downstate University Hospital to Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.

Officials say the Governor’s budget proposes language to allow the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to close the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.

They also say the budget gives OMH the authority to consolidate children’s psychiatric centers in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, and it further gives OMH the authority to close or downsize any other mental health facility without giving the required 12 months prior notice.

In a recent press release, Senator Eric Adams representing Brooklyn’s 20th Senate District stated he along with the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus have passed on their opposition to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Assembly bill A. 9056/S.6256 (Part O).

The bill if passed would allow OMH to close the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center as well as recommends the elimination of the in-patient services of SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn.

Pat Baker is PEF Vice President and a key speaker at Thursday’s rally. She contends the state’s plan to close Kingsboro Psychiatric Center and also shift inpatient hospital services from SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital to Long Island College Hospital is “totally unfair to the people of Brooklyn.”

Baker added “Downstate University Hospital and Kingsboro are here on Clarkson Avenue, where people need them and have depended on them for decades. This is the state’s most populous county and it deserves to have the services it needs, right here, where it needs them."

At a February 14th, 2012 Assembly Ways and Means Senate Finance Committees Mental Hygiene Hearing, Baker testified that there are state initiatives underway for Health Homes which target chronically mentally ill patients and substance abusers, including organizations that provide Behavioral Health services and Developmental Disabilities Individual Support and Care Coordination.

According to her testimony, In the Office of Mental Health (OMH) “we see the undermining of access to care in the unlimited authority given to the Commissioner to reduce beds and close facilities throughout the state, with only 30 to 60 days notice to the employees and community," Baker added.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines at Thursday’s rally, Assemblyman N. Nick Perry representing Brooklyn’s 58th Assembly District indicated that he is optimistic because state psychiatric hospitals like Kingsboro Center are “established and protected by statutory law, in order for it to be removed both houses of the Assembly will have to vote, they cannot automatically close it.”

Assemblyman Perry also said “we have some mild assurances from Governor Cuomo that the proposal is being restructured so at the end of the day we don’t expect that these facilities will be closed.”

In his final report issued on November 28, 2011, Stephen Berger - Chairman of Medicaid Redesign Team: Health Systems Redesign: Brooklyn Work Group recommended to close inpatient services at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center; consolidating State University of New York-Downstate medical beds on the campus of Long Island College Hospital; and bringing salaries and fringe benefits for both unionized employees and hospital executives into line with revenue.

Ms Peemartel Morgan is originally from Jamaica and lives in Brooklyn. She has worked at SUNY Downstate Hospital for 12 yrs in the OB/GYN department. She said if in-patient services are moved to Long island it would create an insurmountable burden on patients.

"Can you imagine a pregnant woman in an emergency situation going into labor must now have to travel miles away in congested traffic from Brooklyn to Long Island if they close SUNY Downstate?

Sierra Leonean born Samuel Koroma is President of CSEA 413 Local at Manhattan Psychiatric Center in Wards island in New York. He said he attended the rally in solidarity with counterparts and members of Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.

He cautioned "the closure of Kingsboro will increase homelessness and pandemonium in the community and inadvertently put the safety and well being of Brooklyn residents at a greater risk. Patients committed at Kingsboro facility require their treatment that they need to help them transitioned back as productive citizens into the community."

If the closure of the hospitals is successful, it will not only affect the local economy but also the huge number of OMH employees of African descent in New York, the Caribbean and from the continent who depend on their paychecks to send remittances to relatives back home.

Assemblyman Nick Perry, left, and correspondent Dennis Kabatto.