Rallying to save our hospitals

February 23, 2009

NEW YORK--Several hundred workers and community members gathered February 21 to protest the closings of St. John's and Mary Immaculate Hospitals.

Both hospitals were filled to capacity and collectively served over a million patients a year, mostly from poor and working-class neighborhoods. While the federal government has given away hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up failing banks, no such rescue package has come forth for these desperately needed community hospitals.

"The decision to close these hospitals is criminal, irresponsible and short sighted," said 1199SEIU Secretary Treasurer Maria Casteneda at the rally. "Putting 4,000 workers out of a job will just deepen the economic crisis. The solution is not to solve the crisis on the backs of patients and workers. The millionaires who live in New York State and don't pay their fair share of taxes, this is the solution to the crisis. Tax the rich! Tax the millionaires!"

Tyrone Hooper, a worker in the Mary Immaculate linen department and an 1199 delegate described the devastating impact the closings will have on his home community of Jamaica in an interview:

In 1996, my brother had no health care, and Mary Immaculate did emergency surgery on him and saved his life. Ninety-five percent of the people who come to us are Medicaid and Medicare recipients. Where are those people going to go now? [Nearby] Jamaica Hospital is already overcrowded and diverting patients to our hospital. We were the only other trauma unit in the area. Meanwhile, diabetes and high blood pressure is on the rise in poor communities, even among children.

While the hospitals are all but emptied, the workers vowed to fight on against attacks on health care. Unions, including 1199SEIU, and community groups will rally at City Hall March 5 against looming state and city budget cuts.

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