BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — On Saturday, President Obama will celebrate the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, a landmark piece of legislation that expanded the government's role in providing health care to its citizens.
So, too, will residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant celebrate its passage, with a rally at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Interfaith Hospital in support of the legislation, where neighbors and businesses can familiarize themselves with what is commonly referred to as "Obamacare" before the official enrollment period begins in October.
But while on its face the meeting is intended to educate and inform, holding it at Interfaith Hospital is no coincidence: recent struggles at the hospital have sparked a broader debate about health care delivery in the community, and some supporters of the medical center fear the loss of services.
"There seems to be a movement on the governor's part to shrink health care in central Brooklyn, which to me is amazing," said Robert Cornegy, district leader for the 56th Assembly District, where the hospital is located. "This is going to be a fight that we dig our heels in for."
Financial troubles began in 2010, when the State reduced Medicaid reimbusements, according to reports. The austerity created a problem for Interfaith.
"Because the people we serve are predominantly poor and fully 65 percent are dependent on Medicaid or Medicaid-managed care, we have had a unique deleterious financial challenge of being dependent on the State’s Medicaid reimbursements,” Interfaith head Luis Hernandez told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
In December, the hospital filed for bankruptcy protection, and last month they signed a non-binding agreement to give control of the medical center over to Brooklyn Hospital.
Though some were relieved that the hospital would remain open, others bristled at the idea, fearing that Brooklyn Hospital's control of Interfaith will lead to cost-cutting measures that drastically reduce services to a hospital that serves a large low-income community.
"Part of this is a smoke screen about whether or not hospitals are closing," Cornegy said. "But the bigger piece is how we're going to access health care as a community for the rest of our lives."
In an annual Health Department survey conducted in 2011, 33.5 percent of the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights population suffered from high blood pressure and 25.4 percent suffered from high cholesterol, while the 14.3 percent reported diabetes rate was one of the highest in the city, according to Health Department surveys.
A January 2012 report by the advocacy group Save Our Safety Net detailed some additonal concerns about the Brooklyn Hospital takeover.
The report detailed the 2005 closure of St. Mary's Hospital in Crown Heights. That year, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center took over five of the hospital's community health centers, according to reports.
Just 18 months later, all but one center closed.
"Serious concerns have been raised that the proposed restructuring of the hospitals in Brooklyn could very well lead to a closing or reduction in services in one or more of the hospitals," the report summarized. "North and Central Brooklyn are currently designated medically underserved, health professional shortage areas. The community has long been in need of additional health services, so the proposed reductions will only serve to exacerbate the problem."
Under the new deal with Interfaith, Brooklyn Hospital will have budgetary and operational powers, including the appointment of new management, and a new board of trustees that will include 60 percent Brooklyn Hospital membership and 40 percent Interfaith membership.
There is also "the possibility of new, reduced and reconfigured services at New [Interfaith,]" according to the agreement.
Crucial services at Interfaith Hospital include mental health and substance abuse services, dentistry, rehab, and a mobile crisis unit, according to Save Our Safety Net. Of note are 120 psychiatric beds as part of the hospital's behavioral health services.
The psychiatric ward was brought into the spotlight after a recent murder, possibly adding to the struggles the facilitiy will now face.
On Tuesday night, a game of dominoes between two patients ended with the death of 47-year-old Conrad Delimar, who was found laying on the shower floor with blunt force trauma wounds to his head and chest. Twenty-year-old Spence Andrews was charged with his murder.
The issue was an isolated incident, Cornegy said, and was not indicative of a greater mismanagement at the facility. But some are calling for the death to be investigated for possible mismanagement on the part of the hospital, the New York Times reported.
“The concern would be that there was not adequate supervision,” Mental Hygeine Legal Services Director Marvin Bernstein told the newspaper. “It is certainly surprising that there would be no noise."
At Saturday's rally, Cornegy said he would do what he could to both inform the public about new health initiatives, and also to convey the seriousness of Interfaith's future.
"I've had some people tell me 'I don't care about Interfaith, I don't go there for my health care,'" Cornegy said. "But it ain't about Interfaith, it's about health care delivery. So you let that happen, and the result can be so much more damaging."