Dozens rally against impending closure of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center

Arlene Meertens, Kingsbrook Nursing staff, addresses the rally.  Julie Keefe
Arlene Meertens, Kingsbrook Nursing staff, addresses the rally.
Julie Keefe

Dozens of workers at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush, along with community members, patients, clergy and public health activists, rallied outside the medical center on Mar. 11 against what they described as the impending closure of the hospital in the epicenter of the Caribbean community in Brooklyn.

“Patients spoke about times that the existence of Kingsbrook had made the difference between life and death for them,” Julie Keefe, a registered nurse and member of the organizing group, Kingsbrook Community Action Committee, told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

“The hospital has a long history and feels like home for many in the community,” she added.

Arlene Meertens, Kingsbrook Patient Care Technician, said: “My family, my friends, the community needs a hospital to go to when they’re ill.

“They need a safety net hospital, and Kingsbrook is a safety net hospital,” she added.

According to Keefe, speakers pointed out that “the pandemic proves the ongoing need for inpatient bed capacity and that the closure stands to worsen health disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods.”

Keefe said there are currently 2.2 hospital beds for every 1,000 residents in Brooklyn, “far fewer than the 6.4 beds per 1,000 residents that exist in Manhattan.

“The hospital has been consolidated with two other Brooklyn safety net hospitals, Brookdale and Interfaith, into a network run by Cuomo-created state-led entity ‘One Brooklyn Health’”, she said.

Khari Edwards, a candidate for Brooklyn Borough President who, until August 2020, worked within One Brooklyn, as vice president of external affairs at Brookdale Hospital, addressed the rally.

“I don’t feel that the plan, especially the communication with the community, and I’m saying this as somebody from the inside, was done properly,” he said. “I’m supporting you, because I believe this plan can go forward in a good way. I believe that Kingsbrook is a necessity in this community.”

Other organizations represented included the advocacy group Commission on the Public’s Health System, Black Lives Matter Brooklyn.

Khari Edwards, Brooklyn Borough president candidate and former One Brooklyn Health executive at the rally. Julie Keefe

Keefe said the Office of the Public Advocate Jumaane Williams tweeted later in opposition to the closure and in support of a moratorium on all hospital closures.

“Safety net hospitals like Kingsbrook MUST be fully funded, especially in under-resourced neighborhoods,” the tweet read.

Earlier, the Rev. Patricia Malcolm, one of the leaders of Kingsbrook Community Action Committee, issued a statement, saying that the group was planning to rally at the entrance of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center “to protest the unjust planned closure of inpatient services at this much-needed safety-net hospital.”

Rev. Malcolm, also a member of Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH), said that, during the first wave of COVID-19 in March 2020, “people sick with the coronavirus filled up Kingsbrook’s 200+ inpatient beds.”

She feared that “Kingsbrook will be absorbed by affiliated One Brooklyn Health hospitals (Interfaith and Brookdale), one-third will find other hospitals, and one-third will simply disappear from the health care system.”

Rev. Malcolm said that, for nearly a century, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center has served East Flatbush and other communities in central Brooklyn.

“Even before the pandemic, Kingsbrook was a busy community hospital that served over 8,000 patients every year,” she said. “Nearly 80 percent of patients hospitalized at Kingsbrook are Black. Closing Kingsbrook’s inpatient services will exacerbate the unequal health outcomes and disease burden for Black, immigrant and working-class New Yorkers. It is a case study in systemic racism.”

Therefore, Rev. Malcolm, said Kingsbrook Community Action Committee demands that, among other things, all Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center services and beds remain functioning, with full staff, for all 200 beds indefinitely; that authorities “stop draining Kingsbrook of resources”; safety net hospitals throughout New York State be fully funded; that “the undemocratic and outdated 2016 restructuring plan to close Kingsbrook’s inpatient services must be scrapped completely”; and that authorities “support a moratorium on all hospital closures and oppose any cuts to safety net hospital funding.”

In response, LaRay Brown, chief executive office of One Brooklyn Health, said in a statement submitted to Caribbean Life on Wednesday that “One Brooklyn Health is committed to transforming how health care is delivered and improving the health of Central Brooklyn residents.

“We will achieve this through the range of services we provide across our system of ambulatory care centers, nursing homes and hospitals, as well as through partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers, social services organizations, housing providers and other community-based organizations,” Brown said. “We agree with advocates that more resources are needed for the social and health care safety net in Central Brooklyn, if health inequities are to be addressed.

“One Brooklyn Health is investing more than $130 million at Kingsbrook Medical Center to develop a Medical Village – a full range of outpatient services to ensure local residents access to services that will contribute to long-term improvements in their health status,” Brown added. “More resources and services are the answer – not beds.”

A Crain’s article, published on Dec. 11, 2019, under the headline, “Cuomo unveils project to convert Kingsbrook Jewish buildings into housing”, stated that “three buildings on a 102,000-square-foot part of the hospital’s campus will be demolished to make way for the housing development, which will be called Kingsbrook Estates. The hospital’s Leviton Building also will be converted into housing units.”

“It’s really addressing a dire need for affordable and supportive housing in central Brooklyn,’ Crain’s quoted Brown as saying at the time. “We’re increasingly seeing that health care is not effective in isolation from addressing the social determinants of health.

“The buildings are home to some of the 303-bed hospital’s administrative offices and include some patient care areas’’, he added. “A state-commissioned study conducted by Northwell Health in 2016 recommended Kingsbrook Jewish no longer operate as a full-service, acute-care hospital.

“This project isn’t ushering in the implementation of that plan,” Brown said. “But One Brooklyn is continuing to pursue plans to transform the campus into a Medical Village with a freestanding emergency department and a much smaller number of inpatient beds.”

He said the project is “part of the Cuomo administration’s commitment to spend $578 million to create 4,000 units of affordable housing in central Brooklyn.

“The money was included in the governor’s $1.4 billion Vital Brooklyn initiative, which allocated about $660 million to transforming health care in central Brooklyn,” Brown said.

“The Kingsbrook Estates plan will include a 7,000-square-foot Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, center, which will connect older adults with chronic health conditions to medical care and social services,” the Crain’s article said.

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