New York mulls closure of SUNY Downstate

The State of New York is planning to significantly shrink or possibly close University Hospital at Downstate in Brooklyn due to concerns that include low patient volumes, a deteriorating hospital building and an operating deficit of about $100 million, The New York Times reported Jan. 20.

SUNY Downstate, part of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, is New York City's only public academic medical center, but "has weathered years of financial instability and seen many of its facilities fall into disrepair, jeopardizing the viability of our hospital facility," SUNY Chancellor John King Jr. said in a statement shared with Becker's.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has directed SUNY to develop a transformation plan to secure a sustainable future for Downstate.

"With the necessary investments, we know we can provide a world-class medical school experience to our students — with cutting-edge research and training facilities — as well as ensure that Brooklyn residents have the infrastructure they need to access high-quality, affordable healthcare," Mr. King said. 

The plan would transfer inpatient care at Downstate to other hospitals in Brooklyn, including Kings County Hospital across the street, according to The New York Times. Closing inpatient services would lead to new funding from the state that Downstate intended to use to increase primary and urgent urgent care services and build a new ASC, a student center and an institute that studied health disparities.

Most of Downstate's patients — almost 90% — are on Medicaid, are underinsured or have no health insurance, and many of its employees could lose their jobs if the hospital is shut down. However, fewer than half of the hospital's available beds are in use on a regular basis, and Downstate's hospital faces an infrastructure crisis, such as routine floods and temperature control issues. 

The plan to relocate inpatient services to other hospitals has been criticized by United University Professions, which represents more than 2,300 workers at SUNY Downstate.

"SUNY is calling its vision for Downstate a transformation, but it is anything but that. Let's call this what it is: SUNY is closing Downstate," UUP President Frederick Kowal said in a Jan. 19 news release. "If you moved the programs offered at my home campus, SUNY Cobleskill, to nearby colleges and turned the campus into a shopping center, do you still have a SUNY Cobleskill? Of course not. And that's what's happening at Downstate. If there is no building, there is no hospital."

While some workforce reductions may come as part of a transformation plan, a spokesperson for SUNY told Becker's that the system is committed to providing the same level of high-quality care to patients and improving access to care through the expansion of its primary, urgent and ambulatory care offerings as care continues to move from inpatient to outpatient settings. Patients in the community will also continue to have access to inpatient care at SUNY Downstate wing at Kings County.

"As New York confronts a healthcare workforce shortage and systemic inequities, we must make the difficult decisions to build a stronger future where SUNY Downstate can continue to be a valued resource for Brooklyn residents while equipping New York's medical centers with cutting-edge research and a pipeline of talented, diverse doctors and nurses," Mr. King said.

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