Interfaith rally draws residents concerned over medical center’s fate

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Protesters fear closing or merger of the recently renovated Interfaith Medical Center will reduce health services in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
By Diane Dixon and Stephen Witt
Dozens of local residents held a candlelight vigil in front of Interfaith Medical Center last week hoping for the best, but fearing the worst regarding the fate of the community hospital.

The 287-bed Interfaith, located at 1545 Atlantic Avenue, in one form or another has for many years served both Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

However, the state, which is facing ballooning Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement costs, coupled with growing Brooklyn medical facility debt, commissioned Stephen Berger, chairman of a private investment firm specializing in private corporate transactions to do a report to remedy the crisis.

The report, released late last year, recommended Interfaith to merge with Brooklyn Hospital and the Wyckoff Medical Center, and for Brooklyn Hospital to be the lead facility.

Hospital officials, workers and residents now fear this merger will mean a reduction of some services at best and possible closure at worst.

“I am on the board of two day care centers in Crown Heights and both day care centers use Interfaith if a child gets injured there. It is very convenient for the child and the child’s parents,” said Connie Lesold, a local resident. “I’m also a member of the Fort Greene Albany Senior Center, just a few blocks from the hospital, and it’s very valuable to the senior center when someone needs emergency medical care. Ever since St. Mary’s Hospital closed, Interfaith has been all the more valuable, not just to individuals but to institutions in the area as well.”

Lesold’s comments were echoed by one source at the rally who noted that every organization in the community including schools, day care centers, senior centers, churches, community groups, businesses, homeowners, tenants, block associations and health care workers were devastated that they were not informed of the list to close or merge hospitals.

Another source said there are fears that the hospital will be pushed to increase some hard services such as mental health while much of the physical medical care will be taken out of the neighborhood and be put into Brooklyn Hospital, which is increasingly serving the more gentrified areas of Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene/Clinton Hill.
Lesold said organizers against the merger approached Community Boards 3 and 8 and they wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health to express their concern about the merger.
But Community Board 3 Chair Henry Butler said there are a lot of rumors floating around about Interfaith and the board felt it was best to follow the lead of local elected officials rather than to write a letter.
“We’re working with the elected officials to see if this plan presented is in the best interest of Interfaith and the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant,” said Butler.
State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery spokesperson Jim Vogel said the senator was in transit, but she is keenly aware of the issue and is against any cuts in services. Assemblywoman Annette Robinson did not return phone calls.
Interfaith spokesperson Diane Porter stated her greatest concern was to have a good community hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She would like to see a redistribution of services to support the needs of the community. With a high rate of diabetes, asthma, hypertension she wants to see the recognition that Interfaith plays a vital role in solving this problem.
“We hope to be recognized as a full community hospital. We want to remain independent and have some say in this,” said Porter.
Porter said Interfaith has been having conversations with both the state and Brooklyn Hospital and is focusing on managing their respective debts.
“In the end, it stems from a monetary issue and we are moving forward to put this in place,” she said.
State Department of Health spokesman Peter Constantakes said the state is reviewing medical facility applications for some of the $450 million statewide HEAL grants, for which both Interfaith and Brooklyn Hospital have applied.
This review takes some time and the state expects to make a decision on the future of Interfaith within the next six months, Constantakes said.