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Occupy Interfaith: Fighting for a Brooklyn Hospital

interfaith sign

Last week, when an order went out to stop accepting ambulance patients arriving at Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn, hospital workers and patients sprung into action. The New York Times reported, "Facing a renewed threat of a shutdown, hospital workers occupied Interfaith Medical Center...Interfaith, which serves primarily poor patients in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago. It is one of several community hospitals Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged in his inauguration speech that he would fight to save." Brooklynites have been fighting to keep Interfaith Hospital open for quite some time, but the workers and patients of Interfaith have been getting some very mixed messages about the status of the hospital. "Every day there is a new rumor," says one worker.

A reproductive workers group, the Florence Johnstone Collective observed, "The unions’ strategy has been to hold symbolic protests and acts of carefully stage-managed civil disobedience, delay the closure through court injunctions and negotiations, beg for state and federal funds to keep the hospital afloat, and put all its resources behind Bill de Blasio, ensuring his election.  Taking advantage of this strategy, De Blasio used the issue to gain attention for his campaign, and to gain support among union workers and the working class people of color who his developer buddies like Bruce Ratner are working to force out of Brooklyn altogether.  In the words of one hospital worker we met, “de Blasio rode the Interfaith issue to the mayor’s office.”  After De Blasio secured the nomination last Fall, his once-familiar face could scarcely be seen around the hospital it had graced so photogenically during the primary.  And since winning the office in November, De Blasio has been notably silent about Interfaith hospital altogether.  This is consistent with his, and the unions’, cynical relationship to rank-and-file workers. It is still unclear whether the Save Interfaith Campaign was ever actually concerned with preserving the hospital, or if it simply served to elect De Blasio, and nobody can say for sure who the unions represent when they tell their workers to calm down, everything will be all right.  What we do know is that the unions’ strategy is only delaying the inevitable, proving that De Blasio, 1199, NYSNA leadership, and Interfaith managers are not representatives of the working class, but willing accomplices in the attack against it....

Interfaith’s closure is happening amidst Long Island College Hospital’s closure battle, and a federal policy that will penalize New York’s “underperforming” hospitals, 10 out of 26 of which are in Brooklyn — that is 10 out of Brooklyn’s 13 hospitals.  Interfaith could be the 20th hospital to close in New York City since 2000.  At the same time, state of the art specialty clinics, which cater to high-income patients, are opening all over the city. Twenty-five new clinics have opened in the last two years in Brooklyn alone.  Many of the workers the Florence Johnston Collective talks with know that this is all connected.  There is a city-wide health care restructuring taking place that will weaken the working class’ ability to be healthy, while breaking down health care workers’ ability to organize.  On the one hand, the poor people will have to travel further to receive the emergency services they need.  On the other, workers will be forced into smaller workplaces and atomized, precarious working situations like providing health services in private homes.  While people should not have to rely on crowded emergency departments as primary care, the current medical restructuring is no substitute for holistic medical care that is developed as a useful tool by and for the people who need the most medical care.  When the unions and politicians say that all this is not connected, that “community issues” and “worker issues” are not the same issues, it says more about who’s side they are on than it says about what’s going on in our city....

....what is necessary to save and transform Interfaith and other hospitals that are in danger of closure?  Florence Johnston Collective has been looking toward histories such as the Lincoln Hospital takeover and current struggles such as the Greek hospital occupations for the answer to this question.  Interfaith is not closed yet, but to keep it open it will take the strength and courage of workers and patients to break with the unions and official leadership, taking the hospital into their own hands and transforming it into a space that actually heals workers and unemployed people alike, with no concern for whether or not they can afford to be treated like human beings.  The Interfaith reprieve is one more reason that workers should struggle outside the unions, forming workplace committees and cross-workplace organizations.  We cannot rely on the unions, or anyone else for that matter, to struggle for us.

The above is an excerpt of an article on the Florence Johnstone Collective website.

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