By Sam Bojarski and Leonardo March

Bearing picket signs with slogans like “beds not body bags” and “patients over profits,” about 50 hospital workers and area residents gathered in front of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush on March 11 to protest a planned hospital consolidation backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

“This community needs this hospital,” said Carmelle Bruno, a registered nurse who has worked at Kingsbrook for 20 years and area resident. 

Bruno took a break from her hospital shift to join the protesters as they marched around the block, protesting the consolidation. She joins other hospital staff and community members who say the past year has underscored the critical role of the hospital during times of crisis. Kingsbrook was overrun with coronavirus patients last March. As recently as December, 97 of 131 medical-surgical beds were occupied, as was 11 of 16 intensive care beds, Bklyner reported.

“It was horrible,” said Bruno, who transferred departments, from ambulatory surgery to critical care, at the height of the pandemic. “They needed a place to go [for care], and we were there.” 

Speakers at the March 11 rally included Rev. Patricia Malcolm of the clergy coalition Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH) and Khari Edwards, a candidate for Brooklyn borough president. Workers like Kingsbrook Patient Care Technician Arlene Meertens also attended, all of them sharing their opinions.

“Safety net hospitals should be fully funded,” Malcom said. “We additionally support a moratorium on all hospital closures.”

Black Lives Matter signs highlighted concerns about health care access in East Flatbush ‒ a majority-Black neighborhood that is home to many Caribbean immigrants.  

In zip code 11203, which encompasses Kingsbrook and much of East Flatbush, more than half the population has Caribbean ancestry. U.S. Census figures also suggest that 8,097 Haitians reside in the neighborhood of 75,920 people. The census typically underreports immigrant populations. 

The state’s plan for Kingsbrook, part of Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative, would transform Kingsbrook into a “medical village” focused on primary and specialty care, while also bringing a housing development to the site. In the process, about 200 in-patient beds would be eliminated from the hospital. 

Protesters demanded the indefinite cancellation of the plan, which was paused in December amid a coronavirus resurgence. While uncertain, the future employment situation concerns employees like Bruno. 

“If ambulatory surgery is going to be here, I have a position,” said Bruno, as she joined the crowd of activists and fellow employees. “But still, I’m thinking about the others, it’s not just about me.” 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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