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Immunization clinics closing

Stephon Johnson | 1/31/2014, 12:56 p.m.

A couple of immunization clinics in the five boroughs—lifelines for underserved New Yorkers who need vaccinations for their children—are slated to close at the end of the month.

Immunization clinics in the Tremont section of the Bronx and the Corona section of Queens are closing in February, while STD clinics will see their hours shortened around the city. The closings follow a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control that pointed out that 25 states have seen a significant increase in reported flu cases prior to the end of 2013.

Local 436 President Judith Arroyo and Local 768 President Fitz Reid—both represent public health advisors who work in immunization clinics—spoke with the AmNews about wanting to get the word out about the closings. Both wanted to remind New Yorkers that their constituents—the workers they represent—will keep their jobs and just be relocated somewhere. For them, this is about a major health warning for citizens and nothing else.

“All of our members who work in immunization, they would just be transferred to other places in the Department of Health,” said Arroyo. “No one lost their jobs. We are public health people. We wouldn’t be in this job if we didn’t want to serve to community and give them services they need.

“If we’re going to provide community services, we have to serve the community.”

“This is not to protect jobs. This is for the people,” said Reid. “The public health here is integrated. We would feel very guilty if we didn’t bring this to the public. We want the public to know.”

Last August, the AmNews reported on District Council 37, the largest public employee union in New York City, standing with allies (like Make the Road New York and the People’s Budget Coalition) in urging the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to stop plans to close walk-in immunization clinics in Tremont and Corona at the beginning of the school year, when children need vaccinations.

At the time, DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts called DOHMH’s actions “a threat to public health and safety.” With the Bronx and Queens locations slated to close at the end of the month, most underserved New Yorkers would have to trek out to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, next school year to get their children vaccinated for free or at a low cost.

In 2012, the immunization clinic in Corona saw 15,591 patients in total and over 1,500 patients that August alone. Out of the 15,591 patients served at the clinic, 2,879 of them were children between the ages of 4 and 15.

When asked about the DOHMN’s alternate plans for the city’s underserved communities, she said the average New Yorker’s guess would be as good as hers.

“I started calling them asking for their side of the story, and they kept saying that they had contingency plans,” said Arroyo. “So we turned around and told them that you didn’t tell the community that you were closing these clinics. You don’t tell people you’re closing in three weeks.”

Regarding a contingency plan, “We don’t know if there is one,” Arroyo said.

The initial plans to close down the clinics came from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With Mayor Bill de Blasio setting up shop at City Hall, it’s up to him to carry through with or pull back Bloomberg’s plans. Before he decides, however, Arroyo hopes he and recently appointed DOHMH Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett consider this tidbit.

“We are a city of immigrants,” said Arroyo. “Even Mayor Bloomberg said that the growth of the city was going to be in immigrants, and when these folks come here, the immunization clinics are the doors that open to other services. If they don’t have a primary care provider or a pediatrician, they’re referred to other places like community organizations. That way, these families can get the services they need.”

With the Bloomberg administration leaving the proverbial arena, the ball’s now in de Blasio’s court.