SUNY Downstate Hospital to stay open — for now — per state budget agreement

SUNY Downstate
SUNY Downstate University Hospital has been at least temporarily saved from closure.
File photo courtesy of SUNY Downstate

SUNY Downstate University Hospital will remain open — at least for now — after lawmakers reached a compromise with Governor Kathy Hochul during budget negotiations.

The East Flatbush hospital will receive enough funding to stay afloat until at least next year as a newly-established community advisory board assesses the status of the hospital’s programs and finances and creates a set of recommendations to guide its long-term future.

In the meantime, the hospital is prohibited from cutting healthcare programs or services.

hochul SUNY Downstate budget
State lawmakers reached a budget agreement with Gov. Kathy Hochul to keep the hospital open.Photo courtesy of Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The agreement came after months of community opposition to the hospital’s closure. In January, Hochul ordered SUNY officials to create a “transformative” plan to overhaul the financially struggling hospital — a plan healthcare workers quickly warned could force it to close altogether.

In her initial budget proposal, Hochul reportedly sought $300 million in capital funding to build a new outpatient facility to handle SUNY Downstate’s patients, and $100 million to keep the hospital running until the new facility was finished.

Under that plan, many of Downstate’s patients would have been transferred to nearby hospitals — though healthcare professionals and experts warned that those facilities were not prepared for that influx, and worried that patient care would suffer.

But in the final budget, SUNY Downstate is set to receive $100 million for operating expenses and $300 million in capital funding. The $300 million will be reserved until after the community advisory board releases their final recommendations next year.

A gubernatorial spokesperson said Hochul is “committed to the health and wellbeing of the Central Brooklyn community.”

SUNY Downstate Emergency physician, Dr. Joel Gernsheimer, protests potential medical center closure.
SUNY Downstate Emergency physician Dr. Joel Gernsheimer protests potential medical center closure. Photo by Isabel Beer

“She negotiated a deal with the Legislature to keep the hospital open, formalize the community engagement process, preserve essential healthcare services, and secure long term fiscal stability,” the spox said.

The community advisory board will comprise of nine members — the commissioner of the state Department of Health, a representative of the healthcare workers’ union, one member each appointed by the state Senate and Assembly, three members appointed by Hochul, one member appointed by Hochul with the contribution of two local community boards, and SUNY chancellor John B. King Jr. 

Per a bill included in the budget, the board will study the hospital’s services, needs, and the needs of its patients and will host three public hearings to hear from the community about the future of SUNY Downstate. 

Next spring, the board will deliver a “reasonable, scalable and fiscally responsible plan for the financial health, viability, and sustainability of SUNY Downstate.”

The building itself is reportedly in need of at least $4 billion in repairs, and operates at a near $100 million annual budget deficit. 

Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, the union that represents most of Downstate’s staff, said the final budget was good “for SUNY, our students, our patients, and for our state.”

“The chancellor’s ill-conceived plan to shut down the hospital, which he floated in January without so much as even asking the community its thoughts on his plan, is dead,” Kowal said in a statement. “It’s dead and buried.”

State Senator Zellnor Myrie speaks at a rally in Albany protesting the potential closure of SUNY Downstate.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie speaks at a rally in Albany protesting the potential closure of SUNY Downstate. Photo by Bridgette Alesci/Corning Place Communications

Standing on the floor of the state capital on April 19, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, recalled walking past refrigerators full of bodies and hearing sirens “nonstop” near SUNY Downstate during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

SUNY Downstate stepped up to do “everything humanly possible” to keep Brooklynites alive during that time, he said, and the community showed that same support when the hospital’s future was on the line.

“It is with great pride and great joy that I stand here today because we showed up for Downstate in its darkest hour,” he said. “We refused to let this institution close.”