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$100 million deficit could see Brooklyn hospital close

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 24, 2024
Business Affairs
SUNY Downstate Medical Center (Photo courtesy of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, School of Public Health)
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the only state-run hospital in Brooklyn, may be closing its doors for good soon as New York State legislatures weigh options for addressing the building’s deteriorating conditions, $100 million annual operating deficit, and low enrollment numbers.

According to The New York Times, the state is mulling over whether to drastically downsize or close the East Flatbush facility, which is part of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and has served Brooklyn communities since 1860. SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. says the NYS government is looking to transfer inpatient care to other Brooklyn hospitals, including the city-run Kings County Hospital across the street, which would free up funding for Downstate to build a new urgent care and an ambulatory surgery center. It also could increase primary care services and open a student center and an institute for studying health disparities.

“This isn’t a cut,” King, Jr. told The Times, adding that inpatient services would remain at other hospitals and that transferring them to Kings County would effectively create “a SUNY Downstate wing” there with potentially 150 beds.

While the closing would not leave nearby communities without a hospital, it raises concerns about access to certain specialized care, including kidney transplants, for which Downstate runs the only program in Brooklyn. Hospital administrators say they are uncertain about the future of that program.

“Let’s call this what it is: SUNY is closing Downstate,” said Frederick Kowal, the president of United University Professions, which represents several healthcare workers at Downstate, in a statement.

He warned that transferring services would create a diminished institution and that a closure would “undoubtedly harm the health of the central Brooklyn community.”

With 342 beds, Downstate serves nearly three million people and also encompasses the College of Medicine, School of Graduate Studies, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, and research facilities, according to its website. But, according to The Times, it only admits 144 patients on a usual day, despite having more than twice as many beds.

Its closure would be the second for a major healthcare facility in New York City over the last five months. Back in September, Mount Sinai Health System announced that it would be closing its 799-bed Beth Israel teaching hospital in Manhattan in the next few years, attributing the decision to years of inpatient number declines and over $1 billion in losses over the last decade, with an additional $150 million loss at the time projected for 2023.

Additionally, in December, three BronxDocs clinics shut down five days before Christmas. Health insurer and co-owner EmblemHealth said it would reopen them in January under the brand name AdvantageCare Bronx, as part of a new partnership with AdvantageCare Physicians. Some former BronxDocs physicians criticized the closures, saying they left providers and healthcare workers without jobs and patients without care for at least a month.

Details about the fate of Downstate still need to be worked out, including what might happen to the main hospital building. King, Jr. says one possibility is to build housing there.

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