Profit System Hazardous to Workers’ Health; Protest Racist Attacks on Brooklyn Hospitals

BROOKLYN, January 11 — Hundreds of angry hospital workers and supporters rallied loudly in front of the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel here this week as racist financier Stephen Berger, a darling of Governor Cuomo, announced his plan to “save” health care in the borough of Brooklyn. Workers who had never been at such a protest (or at least not for a long time) chanted as bosses from Downstate Hospital, Wall Street moguls and Berger himself entered the hotel for a fancy breakfast.

Brooklyn is a borough of 2.5 million people.  One in five live below the poverty line and two in five are on Medicaid. An untold number are without any health insurance. In 1980, Brooklyn had 26 hospitals — now it has 15. There are now 41% fewer acute care beds, 2.3 beds per 1,000 residents, compared with Manhattan’s 4.7, the state’s 3.1 and the nation’s 2.6. Disparities in health by income and “race” are concentrated in certain New York City communities, including several in Brooklyn. In 2001, life expectancy in our poorest neighborhoods was eight years shorter than in its wealthiest; that is 4,000 extra premature deaths/year in the poorest communities.

Racism: The Worst Disease

The facts show the racist nature of the U.S. health care system. Brooklyn is 36% black and 20% Latino. Latino New Yorkers are twice as likely to have diabetes. Black New Yorkers are three times more likely to die of diabetes than white residents. Ninety-four percent of elevated blood levels in New York City are among African Americans, Latinos and Asians. If infant mortality rates were equalized, the lives of some 200 babies of these ethnic groups would be saved each year (NYC DOHMH “Health Disparities in NYC,” 2004).

The hospitals in Brooklyn who serve its poorest residents have been set up to fail by Medicaid cuts. Stephen Berger, a hedge fund mogul and part of the unelected government of New York has led a task force for Governor Cuomo to come up with a plan to “rescue” health care in Brooklyn. He proposes closing Downstate Hospital in central Brooklyn and Kingsborough Psychiatric Hospital.

Another of the proposals is to invite private investors into Brooklyn hospitals. We have already seen for-profit Medisys’ disastrous mismanagement of  Brookdale Medical Center. We’ve seen Continuum executives making between one and two million dollar salaries while millions of dollars at Long Island College Hospital’s real estate and other assets disappeared under their management. We can’t stand by and watch healthcare for profit drain other hospitals in the poor and black and Latino neighborhoods and, then abandon them for New York State to rescue (or not).

After the rally, workers asked, “Did we accomplish anything? Did anything change?” Our answer is that life is a constant struggle between the working class and the big businessmen who run the economy and the government. We were there in force as this New York ruling class announced its plan to close two public hospitals in the underserved borough of Brooklyn. We took strength from each other. But stopping their attacks is going to take more action. We need to unite patients, communities and workers, black, Latino and white, to oppose them at every stage of their plan, much like what was done during the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

Interestingly, the unions were absent from this action. The union that made a deal with the Berger hospital closures a few years ago, SEIU-1199, which represents many of the affected Brookdale and Interfaith Hospital workers, was nowhere to be seen. Also the unions from Kings County Hospital, which is across the street from Downstate, including the city union’s District Council 37, were conspicuously absent. Brooklyn patients and  jobs are in jeopardy. We need working-class unity, not territorialism!

The bottom line is that we live in a capitalist system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; a system where the only funds the demopublicans “can’t” cut are for oil wars and bailouts of banks “too big to fail.” We have to fight against these attacks on medical care. But living conditions for the working class, especially black and Latino workers, are so rotten under this system that we will never be healthy until we rid ourselves of the profiteers and run things according to the needs of our class. Contact revolutionary communist PLP to find out more.

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