City Council member and Public Advocate candidate Letitia James
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cuts to public health services disproportionately hurt low-income communities of color and the workers who serve them, leaders of a huge gathering that included District Council 37, AFSCME and other labor, community and health advocates and elected officials said, on the steps of City Hall.
Today, DC 37 Associate Director Oliver Gray, representing Executive Director Lillian Roberts, called this a health risk and a major political issue saying: “We need a public health Mayor who will treat us fairly and who will acknowledge that we must play a role in shaping the delivery of health care services to our communities.”
“Historically, we have been underrepresented or excluded from decision-making processes that could end up preserving and enhancing or privatizing and downsizing health care services. The result has been a disparate impact on us, our families and our communities,” Gray added.
“We are urging the current mayor to stop cutting clinic hours and services. He must cease and desist making further cuts to public health services. We need to look to expand the services our communities need. In fact, health care will be a priority for the new Mayor,” said City Council member and Public Advocate candidate Letitia James.
Advocates cited several examples, including the Health and Hospitals Corporation’s recent closing of North Central Bronx Hospital’s Labor and Delivery Department charging that the move could have dangerous consequences for low-income women and families in the northwest Bronx community.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s plans to reduce the hours of operation for many of the city’s nine STD clinics, which served close to 100,000 in 2012, was also an issue. While earlier protest by labor, community and elected officials temporarily put a stop to the City’s plan, at the height of the school vaccination season, to close two of its three immunization clinics in Queens and the Bronx, the group has renewed protests since the clinics are now slated to be closed as of December 31. This, they said, will severely limit access for low-income and poor families to free and low-cost immunizations that could protect themselves and their children from contagious diseases, like the Flu, Meningitis, Hepatitis B, pertussis (Whooping Cough), measles, mumps, rubella and more.
Current plans to cut the hours of the Health Department’s STD Clinics were also cited as having a potentially detrimental impact by limiting the availability of free and low-cost tests for, as well as the City’s ability to track, such sexually transmitted diseases, as HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes Simplex and more. The impact is dramatized by the fact that through the 2nd Quarter of 2013 there were 27,988 cases of Chlamydia and 6,341 cases of Gonorrhea, and over 2,000 cases of Syphilis, many in the very same areas serviced by clinics whose hours are being reduced.
“Though New York City has been able to decrease new HIV infections in the last decade by 40%, it continues to be the epicenter of the HIV epidemic in the U.S.,” said Esther W. Y. Lok, Assistant Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research and Senior Policy Analyst for HIV and AIDS from the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “We urge the new Mayor and new Commissioner of DOHMH to re-establish the Citywide Office of AIDS Policy Coordination in the Office of the Mayor, and actively participate in the development and implementation of New York State’s plan to end AIDS. FPWA also urges the new Mayor to address core issues faced by many with, and at-risk for HIV, including housing instability, food insecurity, and poverty.”
Anthony Feliciano of the Commission on the Public’s Health Systems said, “Even as the Affordable Care Act is being rolled out, many New Yorkers will fall through the cracks. Some will not be able to afford adequate coverage to meet their health needs, while others, in particular undocumented immigrants, will remain without access to coverage. These New Yorkers will need to be able to rely on the health care safety net, especially our public hospital system and the services provided through the Health Department.”
“Public health is as important as public safety,” said Fitz Reid, President of Local 768, Health Services Employees. “Without comprehensive immunization, the ability to quickly test for contagious diseases, and a strong focus on preventive health measures, the cost to the City will be incalculable.”
“At at time when healthcare services should be expanding the City decides to close two clinics in communities that need them. It is like those that currently are running city government just don’t care about the people!” said Ralph Palladino, 2nd Vice President of NYC Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549.
“I’m proud to stand with the members of DC 37 and others in opposing crippling cuts to public health services in our City,” said Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President and candidate for NYC Comptroller. “We need to connect people to medical care facilities in their neighborhoods, because they are lifelines for millions of New Yorkers. Community clinics and public hospitals deliver crucial preventive care and we must be vigilant in protecting them. Going forward, we must work together to strengthen and expand these programs, and I join with public health care providers throughout our City in supporting the vital safety net they provide.”
With some 2.5 million New Yorkers designated as “medically underserved,” District Council 37 and other advocates protesting the City’s cuts to public health services insisted these actions pose a threat not only to that population but, eventually, to all New Yorkers’ public health.
Among the many organizations joining the City Hall protest against cuts in public health services were: District Council 37; AFSCME; AFL-CIO; The Commission on the Public’s Health System (CPHS); People’s Budget Coalition for Public Health; Communications Workers of America Local (CWA); Local 1180; Committee of Interns and Residents – SEIU; New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA); Coalition for Asian American Children and Families; Children’s Defense Fund-NY; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Organization of Staff Analysts; Bronx Health Link; Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; Greater NY Labor Religion Coalition; New York Metro Health Care For All; Civil Service Employees Association; District Council 1707; SEIU, Local 246; Doctor’s Council SEIU; New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health; and, Organization of Staff Analysts.