Op-Ed: New cancer care partnership will tackle health disparities for my constituents

Maimonides Health center exterior in Central Brooklyn.
Maimonides Health and SUNY Downstate announced new collaboration.
File image from Google Maps

Over the past three years, from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic through the recent “tripledemic”, it’s been clear that strong healthcare institutions are essential anchors of healthy communities.  And yet, today our healthcare system faces cascading crises: a workforce crisis, a funding crisis, an access crisis, and an equity crisis. Here in Brooklyn, where over half of our 2.7 million residents are insured by the Medicaid program, years of underinvestment, hospital closures, and gaping disparities in the social determinants of health have made all of these issues particularly entrenched.

These challenges require us to think anew, and no one organization can solve them alone. In that context, I’m proud that two of Brooklyn’s iconic and enduring institutions, SUNY Downstate and Maimonides Medical Center, have formed a powerful partnership that will better serve my constituents – especially those who have historically had the least access to care.  

Earlier this month I was proud to join Downstate President Dr. Wayne Riley, Maimonides CEO Ken Gibbs, and their teams of incredible medical professionals for the announcement of a groundbreaking collaboration in cancer care that will expand cancer diagnosis and treatment for many who have historically lacked access.  Of the 133,000 residents in the communities I represent surrounding SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital – East Flatbush, Farragut and Rugby – roughly 112,000 identify as Black or African American and are statistically at a higher risk for breast, prostate, and colon cancer, diseases that can be easily treated when detected early. 19% of the community lives in poverty, and 15% are uninsured, with others underinsured and facing limited medical care access. This contributes to a lack of medical resources, especially in terms of preventative care that is so important to catching cancers early, avoiding the need for difficult and invasive treatment, and decreasing risk of cancer-related death. 

Combining SUNY Downstate’s leading-edge academic and research capabilities with Maimonides’ renowned cancer care will help reach – and cure – more patients than ever before.  The new Maimonides-SUNY combined Division of Hematology-Oncology will be the largest such practice in Brooklyn and will create a pathway for these communities to easily access the services of the Maimonides Cancer Center which offers many of the most advanced therapies available anywhere, including innovative alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation.   Maimonides Cancer Center providers will see patients at SUNY Downstate’s medical campus, expanding care while providing greater opportunities for the teaching, training, and research expertise made available through SUNY Downstate’s academic programs.    

In the context of a healthcare system that has historically struggled to deliver adequate funding for underserved communities, the partnership between these two esteemed organizations has the potential to better leverage scarce resources, while allowing patients to benefit from the combined expertise of both institutions.  Maimonides plays an instrumental role in SUNY Downstate’s teaching mission, while SUNY’s academic infrastructure and programs are a key factor advancing innovation and learning at Maimonides and other hospitals.

To ensure that this innovative collaboration can succeed, my colleagues and I in the New York State Legislature are working tirelessly to ensure that Downstate, Maimonides – and all of the other safety net health care institutions that serve our borough – have the resources they need to provide our constituents with the high quality care they deserve.  The FY24 state budget process is now under way and we will make certain that we prioritize the programs and services that make partnerships like this possible.  Because at the end of the day, SUNY Downstate and Maimonides can transform the way hundreds of thousands of Brooklynites access care, and help the people I so proudly serve, and we’re committed to helping them do it.

Brian Cunningham is an Assembly Member representing 43rd District.