Two Interfaith Hospital Activists Honored With Public Health Award

By Paul DeBenedetto on April 26, 2014 12:23pm 

 Protestors staged a rally outside of Interfaith Medical Center on Jan. 19. Sharonnie Perry (center, behind microphones) and IM Foundation Chair Diane Porter (not pictured) will be honored with a public health award.
Protestors staged a rally outside of Interfaith Medical Center on Jan. 19. Sharonnie Perry (center, behind microphones) and IM Foundation Chair Diane Porter (not pictured) will be honored with a public health award.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Two activists leading the fight to save Interfaith Medical Center from closure will be honored for their efforts by a public health group on Tuesday.

Sharonnie Perry, a longtime activist and chair of Interfaih's community advisory board, and Diane Porter, an Interfaith board member and director of the IM Foundation, which stands for the Interfaith Medical Foundation, will be two recipients of the 2014 Marshall England Memorial Public Health Awards, an honor given out annually by the Commission on the Public's Health System to people "carrying on the fight for health equality," acording to the commission.

The award, which will be given out during a ceremony at the Harlem Hospital Center on Tuesday, is in response to the duo's work on the front lines of the battle to keep the hospital open, after it declared bankruptcy in 2012.

"When someone recognizes your work within your neighborhood or your community, it's always a good feeling," Porter said. "I'm honored to be among that outstanding group of health care heroes."

In addition to Porter and Perry, CPHS will honor New York State Nurses Association Executive Director Jill Furillo, disability rights activist Anne Emerman, Latino Commission on AIDS President Guillermo Chacón and Kings County Hospital Center Chair Agnes Abraham.

Porter, who has worked with the hospital for more than 30 years, started as a volunteer in the 1980s when the hospital was still called St. John's Episcopal, she said.

After years of working with newborns withdrawing from crack cocaine addiction, Porter was eventually asked to be on the hospital's board, she said.

But in her role as head of the IM Foundation, Porter said her advocacy role sometimes differes from her role on the board.

"It's a tightrope that I walk," Porter said.

Perry is a Bed-Stuy activist who helped raise awareness for HIV and AIDS both locally and nationally.

As chair of the hospital's community advisory board, Perry works with community stakeholders, and organizes rallies and protests in support of the struggling hospital.

As a community representative, Perry said she shares the CPHS honor.

"The public health award is something I think is prestigious," Perry said. "But it's not just for me. It's for everybody."

Interfaith went into bankruptcy after years of money problems, stemming from a 2010 cut in Medicaid reimbursements.

Closure proceedings were supposed to begin in August, but the hospital's closure was repeatedly pushed back due to short-term funding designed to give the state and supporters time to agree on a deal.

Last month, Interfaith reached a deal with the state that could help it get out of Chapter 11, according to hospital officials.

The next hearing is May 12, at 11 a.m., where both sides will hopefully find out the hospital's future, Perry said.

"There might be a settlement, where we might be able to come out of bankruptcy," Perry said. "And then we can move in another direction."

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