Advocates Decry Health Care Inequality at Interfaith Hospital Protest

By Paul DeBenedetto on January 19, 2014 6:40pm 

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 Health care inequality was the focus at a protest in front of Interfaith Medical Center on Sunday.
Interfaith Protest
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Dozens of protestors lined up outside of Interfaith Medical Center on Sunday to speak out against what they said was an inequality of healthcare outcomes in the possible closure of the Bed-Stuy hospital.

Central Brooklyn elected officials joined hospital worker unions 1199 SEIU and the New York State Nurses Association to rail against the state for witholding $3.5 million in funds promised to Interfaith last month, in response to the hospital's board's decision to postpone transferring control of its clinics to Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, who called the decision "abominable," argued that properties like the Barclays Center had no problem getting money.

"We've spent over a half-billion dollars on a sports arena, and there's still more to come," Montgomery said. "Why would we be begging for $3.5 million?"

The protest comes two days after ambulances were temporarily sent away from the hospital due to the lack of state funds.

When the funding did not arrive on Friday as planned, hospital CEO Patrick Sullivan diverted ambulances from the hospital at 2 p.m., according to a hospital spokeswoman, which sparked a protest at the hospital that lasted into the evening.

After a brief delay, Interfaith's Chief Medical Officer Pradeep Chandra contacted the FDNY at 6 p.m. and rescinded the order to divert the ambulances, the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman on Sunday denied reports that Sullivan, who is set to step down from his post at the end of the month, was fired after the diversion, though Public Advocate Letitia James on Sunday doubled down on the accusation.

"He was escorted out amongst cheering employees," James said. "He's gone, he's off the campus, he's not returned."

Now the case will go back to bankruptcy court on Tuesday to determine whether or not the funding will continue.

But advocates like Congressman Hakeem Jeffries say health outcomes in the area — central Brooklyn suffers from disproportionately high rates of HIV, high blood pressure and diabetes, among other ailments, according to the Health Department — call for more hospital funding, not less.

"There is no responsible reason to allow for the closure of Interfaith Hospital," Jeffries said. "You can not claim on one hand you want to help us save the hospital, then on the other hand [cut funding.]"

The hospital also services more than 50,000 emergency room visits and more than 200,000 outpatient clinic visits, of which more than 90,000 are in the behavioral health area, according to the Interfaith Medical Foundation.

Other speakers echoed Jeffries' sentiment, with Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo calling the state's move "irresponsible."

Councilman Robert Cornegy, who was joined at the rally by his young daughter Nala, said he was working with the mayor's office and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to try and provide city funds to keep the hospital temporarily afloat, something the councilman admits he is not sure can be done.

"I don't know what the precedent is," Cornegy said. "But I'm dually bound as a community advocate and now a council member."

As protestors lambasted the state, chanting phrases like "Interfaith is here to stay" and "hands off my health care," on protestor in particular targeted Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Diane Porter, a board member at Interfaith, spoke last and drew a comparison to scandal-scarred New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was most recently recently accused of withholding Hurricane Sandy funds from the mayor of Hoboken.

"[Cuomo] is trying to create health care policy by intimidation," Porter said. "Welcome to 'Hoboken East'."

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