A Matter of Life Support As powers push to close Interfaith, the Bedford Stuyvesant

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Yesterday, hearses, pickets and mourners queued up in front of Interfaith Hospital on Atlantic Avenue around 2pm; proceeded through Bedford-Stuyvesant streets northwest to Cadman Plaza and at about 4pm marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. There, hundreds of protesters raised their voices in opposition to the proposed closures of Interfaith and Downtown Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital. The march was symbolic of the lives that could be lost if the powers that be abruptly pull the lifeline on these two medical institutions. It also was designed to bring attention nationwide to this critical situation. Interfaith Hospital serves low-income and underserved populations, and hospital officials and community residents are working hard to deliver critical life support for the facility. According to NBC News, the local affiliate’s Chopper 4 video “showed police officers handcuffing several protesters.” And there was an irony: with City Hall as its destination, the cortege was actually within several feet of the site of the largest known cemetery for former enslaved Africans in the United States. It closed in 1795 after In Colonial times, there were no physicians, per se, for the 20,000 or so interred who happened, it is documented, to have built early New York. They had no medicines other than what they could make and no hospitals, only the shacks. And now their descendants are facing the insult again: no hospital in Bedford-Stuyesant, Kings County, home to one of the largest populations of African-Americans. Sharonnie Perry, chair, Board of Trustees of Interfaith Hospital, a community leader and activist for most of her life, like so many others takes threats to her neighborhood personally. Now this. For her, the reported intent to close Interfaith is not just another community problem to overcome: it is an affront to justice; an attack on the village.  After all, what is a village without its hospital? Especially this particular hospital. Some protesters feel the answer is deeper; the real issue, they say, is gentrification and land grab: “they (want to) build condos where the hospital (is).” Ms. Perry, political leaders like Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, clergy and political activists by the score have been drafting plans, strategizing, rallying to save Interfaith.  A plan drafted by her team to restructure the hospital was rejected by the Department of Hospitals, last week.  This week, they were given an extension to come up with a “modified plan” to the state Department of Health by today. Yesterday, Crain’s reported that Interfaith Medical Center, now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy court, “may have run out of time.”  But Ms. Perry and other leaders are not giving up, nor wasting time.  They’re not looking for angels, either.  She says they just want the various levels of government to step in, work with them and do the right thing.  “Do you know that (Interfaith’s) in bankruptcy because they’re still paying off the debt from the old Brooklyn Jewish Hospital that the state never took care of?” said one Interfaith medical director. We caught up with Ms. Perry last Sunday, the morning following her emergency trip to Interfaith as a result of a severe allergic reaction. The interview with Ms. Perry begins next week, and we will continue to track the happenings around Interfaith, from Brooklyn to Albany (Or Washington, D.C.) and back, from the solid viewpoint of people who would be affected most by the closing.   (Bernice Elizabeth Green)

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