Columns From Bishop Brennan

SUNY Downstate Medical Center Must Stay Open

By Bishop Robert J. Brennan

Last month, I wrote to Gov. Kathy Hochul to share my concerns regarding the pending closure of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. As of this writing, New York State budget negotiations continue, and I am hopeful that the final agreement will keep this university hospital, based in Central Brooklyn, open to provide continued care.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center has been a central point for the health care of many in Brooklyn for nearly 70 years. If a decision to close or downsize this hospital is approved, there is no doubt the level of health care in the area will be compromised.

Furthermore, such a closure will cause significant unemployment and devastate the local economy. As the only teaching hospital in Brooklyn, the number of medical residency positions would be reduced and fewer qualified graduates would be able to work in hospitals throughout our city.

According to a January 2024 New York State Department of Health report, there is already a shortage of quality health care in Central Brooklyn. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a late February poll conducted by Hart Research, more than 70% of residents living near the hospital oppose its closing. The results also found that among the sample of 601 people, 79% of those who have been treated there oppose SUNY Downstate’s closing.

Photo: SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Overall, Brooklyn’s network of hospitals is already at capacity because of prior hospital closures. Closing SUNY Downstate Medical Center would only add to the congestion and wait times in local emergency rooms.

The closure of SUNY Downstate will reduce access to essential health care services, could lead to an increase in maternal mortality rates, and widen the gap of health care inequality. The proposal to reduce the number of hospital beds by more than half, from 342 to 150, and relocate them to a wing of Kings County Hospital, is concerning. This plan neglects the health care of many people. The community has become dependent on this hospital and the services it provides through various initiatives and programs.

At the heart of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of every human person created in the image and likeness of God. Health care is a human right and its availability, regardless of social or economic status, helps to ensure that the lives and dignity of our neighbors and their families are respected.

It pleases me to stand with the people and families of East Flatbush and beyond who depend on this hospital with its staff of selfless individuals, in calling upon our governor and state legislature to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center open.

Bishop Robert J. Brennan is the Eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.