Interfaith Medical Center is fighting to stay open. Community residents, local politicians and unions have been fighting for weeks to keep the doors open.
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gambling with the lives of the people in our community,” charged Sharonnie Perry, chairperson of the Interfaith Community Advisory Board. “Twenty years ago, Andrew Cuomo’s father [Gov. Mario Cuomo] was about closing health care facilities so that he could build prisons in upstate New York; now, his son is closing medical facilities—gambling with people’s lives so that he can build casinos for his friends.”
Perry determined, “I believe that Interfaith is being used as scapegoat so that they can really close down Long Island College. It’s a political thing. They can’t just outright close LICH [Long Island College Hospital]. They can’t close SUNY Downstate because they are not going to close a state hospital, so they are saying they will close Interfaith. Our land is worth millions; the LICH land is worth billions with that waterfront and Manhattan skyline.
“It’s about real estate; they can take this whole block and build luxury condos. But it is not for us, everyday Joes. It is for those who are migrating into the community.
“But we are gong to fight. It is important to the people of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights that we have our own hospital.”
The hospital, which is located on busy Atlantic Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, formerly existed under the name of St. John’s Hospital, and many community residents still reminisce of the times when their children and grandchildren were born and received all their medical care there. Now, after the hospital’s many years of serving the Bed-Stuy community, the New York State Department of Health is requesting that Interfaith Hospital develop a blueprint for closure.
A rally to highlight this injustice was held at the entrance of the hospital on Tuesday, July 23. People from all walks of life attended. Based on the number of local NYPD officers on motorbikes and other police vehicles who were present, it is evident that the community’s resolve is growing stronger. They are seeking justice in health care for Interfaith hospital. The focus is on saving the hospital.
Mitchelle Ned, an 1199 SEIU delegate and hospital employee of 31 years, vehemently stated that “Interfaith is not closing. We will lie in the building if we have to.” This hospital has become home to 1,500 employees and with management on the side of the workers, it has become evident that they too understand the consequences of the hospital closing. Their livelihood is also at stake. The hospital is said to be losing $1.5 million a month.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries’ representative Christopher Lundy informed the demonstrators that Jeffries was still very much involved and had sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to express his concerns. Councilwoman Darlene Mealy discussed the need for the community to fight back in economic terms, because “the only way we can hurt people is in their pockets. Stop buying! Do things that will hurt them in their pockets, because death from AIDS will skyrocket” 56th Assembly District Leader Robert Cornegy said, “They must continue to let their collective voice be heard, because we cannot let other people dictate how we live and how we die.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, CWA workers, Local 1199 SEIU, New York State Nurses Association, employees from Long Island College and Downstate hospitals and clergy joined the rally. Brooklyn communities are in a health care crisis, and George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, said, “If elected officials were doing their jobs, then they would put the community first.” He continued, “We are not afraid to use the tools of civil disobedience to get the public to understand how serious the problem is. Illness and the need for quality health care will not go away if they close the doors of Interfaith.”
As the protesters carried their signs, banners and chanted slogans, the noise of the Long Island Railroad overhead momentarily drowned out their voices as it roared past the hospital. Commuters in cars, trucks and even emergency vehicles showed their support by loudly honking their horns as they drove up and down the thoroughfare. They all seem to understand that Interfaith cares about saving lives.
Additional reporting by Nayaba Arinde