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Importance of Being Counted

LaRay Brown, CEO, One Brooklyn Health System makes the case for being counted in the census . Photo: David Greaves

LaRay Brown, CEO, One Brooklyn Health System, Speaks

LaRay Brown is President and CEO of the billion-dollar One Brooklyn Health System, composed of Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. Ms. Brown was named as one of the most powerful women in New York by Crain’s New York Business magazine in 2019.


Why it’s important to be counted
The numbers of people in a community determines how many dollars come to that neighborhood, and that city and state for things like hospitals, food support, education, public safety and other programs. The funding that comes from the federal government is based upon the census and geography. Also, critically important, the number of representatives the county and the state have, is based on the number of people who live in that state. We in Brooklyn are really at a significant risk of losing the representation that we have, because we could lose a congressional seat if the community is not counted.


We know that in prior years, and now because of Covid, not as many people are completing the Census information that is being sent to them. In prior years we’ve always had an undercount in Brooklyn and in other parts of the state. Therefore, we may have a third more people living in the community, but the resources that are coming from the federal government don’t account for that because they have not completed the census information. We don’t want that to happen again.


It is so incredibly important that Brooklyn get the resources it needs. People living in Brooklyn, whether they are citizens or immigrants, they need to be counted. Everyone from babies the seniors in your household needs to be counted. It is not about citizenship status. It’s about the people who live in the community. We want people to feel safe in responding to the census whether sent to the home or online because every single individual needs to be counted because every single individual needs the resources that the federal government is responsible to provide and to have the representation in Washington commensurate with their numbers. If you have your representation in Washington, other policies will be brought forward, and your voices better heard if you have that congressional seat.
We’ve got great representatives and we need more of them and we certainly don’t want to lose any.

On the Undercount
My understanding is that only 40% of the individuals in the county completed the census. We’re concerned that because of Covid, everyone’s focus has appropriately been on making sure they stay safe. But we want to make sure they get counted. The Census Bureau has extended the time frame for folks to get counted. We have staff here at one Brooklyn who are doing outreach and hosting community events where people can safely come and get information on how they can complete the census information forms. We want to make it as simple as possible for everyone to be counted.


Every 10 years, how do the demographics change.
The demographics can change exponentially. This is New York, nothing stays the same. We know that in certain neighborhoods, the race, the age group, the number of households, can change hugely over span of ten years. I believe there are interim household surveys that are done, but it is the census that drives most things.
I’ve been emphasizing the federal government basing their distribution of resources by the number of people who live in a zip code, community, state or county. But other entities do that too. As a hospital, were we to apply for a private grant, a foundation grant, they usually say, “Well what’s the community that you’re serving? How many people live there?” We rely on the census data to say “We have ‘X’ number of people, a million people, who live in central Brooklyn and 40% are in this age range, etcetera.” That information helps us as we’re attempting to bring more resources into the borough of Brooklyn for health care services. Many funding sources want to have information about the population you serve. And the census data is an important source of that.

Census Form is Easy to fill out.
When I got my census form, and we say we’ll deal with it later and put it aside. But didn’t even take five minutes to complete. I can’t emphasize enough how easy it is, and for something so incredibly important to be easy to complete. You fill it out, put it in the mail and it’s done. And you’ve contributed to bringing resources to your neighborhood, to your borough and to your state.

What else about the census?
I would say, particularly now, when we’re continuing to be affected by this global pandemic. Making sure that everyone is counted. And if we were to have another surge with the virus, or another pandemic in five years, the government’s understanding of who is in these communities, can help them as they’re planning for their response.
I mentioned public safety. Resources that go to the fire departments, to the EMS, resources for federally-qualified health centers. Even though I’m responsible for a health system, which includes hospitals and nursing homes, but the community federally-qualified health centers, they also derive their funding based on the numbers of people who live in the community they serve. They are the front door in terms of health care, primary care, outpatient care. Services for seniors, services for children, the food programs. Particularly if they are funded by the federal government, the amount that a state is eligible for to receive the federal dollars to support many of the social services programs , like food, like public housing, is driven by the census count.
A good example of this would be, for many, many years, according to the census there was a greater population in the urban areas. And then as people began to move out of urban centers into suburban or even exurban areas, dollars flowed from what had been population centers into new population centers. The Northeast lost population to the South or Southwest and so dollars flow. In addition, congressional seats, flow. And if we’re no completing our census, but we’re still here, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Because we’re losing the resources to support the essential services that we need in our community and it’s because we’re not counted. Putting our hand up and completing the five-minute survey, those dollars go to other parts of the country.
We need to keep the resources we deserve in Brooklyn, and that means everybody in Brooklyn, whether you’re a citizen or an immigrant, old or young, needs to be counted.

When politicians speak about receiving federal funds
It’s based on the number of people who may live in that congressional district. In many instances, those resources are really driven by population. So we need to also help our congressional and senate representatives in making sure we have a census where the count of the number of people who live in the district is accurate and they can make the case for us in terms of resources that we need from the federal government.


Last emphasis
I hope I’ve emphasized how important it is for folks to take those five minutes, complete that census. Count everyone in the household. It does not matter if that person is a citizen or an immigrant, they should be counted.
And I hope I’ve emphasized how important it is, not just from a political perspective, in terms of congressional members, but for all the bread-and-butter services that folks rely upon. They should know that a lot of the resources for those services is driven by how many people are there.

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