By Harrison Magee
Oct. 18, 2010
Physicians, union supporters, and concerned members of the community rallied at noon on Wednesday outside of Harlem Hospital to protest the ongoing staff and service cuts being made at the center, which is the city’s flagship public medical facility. The action, which gathered hundreds of protesters, was organized by the Doctors’ Council of SEIU, the bargaining unit representing the nearly 200 physicians on staff at the HHC.
Doctors’ Council Executive Director Dr. Frank Proscia, joined by representatives of the union and community, voiced major concerns over the future of patient care delivery at the Hospital, which has served Harlem since 1887. Harlem hospital has already been hit by major cuts to patient services and the center is now threatened by additional layoffs to 10% of its staff, a move that physicians agree would prove “devastating” to the quality of care the hospital provides. Demonstrators Wednesday left no doubt that a threat to healthcare access is a threat to every resident of Harlem, physician or not. As one picket sign read: “Harlem loves its doctors…But loves its people more.”
Proud of the HHC’s reputation and history as a public hospital, speakers attributed the service cuts to a systematic favoritism toward private and academic medical facilities, namely Columbia University Medical Center. According to HHC Cardiologist Bredy Pierre-Louis, this reflects a tragic contradiction within the City’s vision of public health. “We doctors are here today because we believe access to healthcare is a human right,” Pierre-Louis said in an interview. Such cuts will only exacerbate the “great healthcare disparity” already felt by Harlem’s residents, many of whom are poor and underinsured, and who already suffer from illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, stroke and HIV-AIDS at city-high rates.
Doctors like Mr. Pierre- Louis will “continue to mobilize and galvanize the public” to speak out against the cuts, and stress the reality that increased, not decreased support for public health care is needed in under-served neighborhoods such as Harlem.