Soon after Interfaith administrators filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, they issued layoff notices to the hospital’s 1,544 employees.22 A small group of Interfaith nurses23 began meeting daily in the hospital’s cafeteria. They monitored the hospital’s bankruptcy proceedings and organized strategic protests and demonstrations. They began to convene the key labor groups affected by Interfaith’s proposed closure -- 1199SEIU24 and the New York State Nurses Association (“NYSNA”).
How the fight to save Interfaith was initiated
Why Local 1199 and NYSNA adopted new tactics in fighting the closure of Interfaith Hospital
The factors leading to the formation of the Coalition to Save and Transform Interfaith, and its role in the Interfaith fight
The unions had had little success in preventing previous hospital closures, most recently, Long Island College Hospital (LICH) just a few miles from Interfaith.25 Despite high-profile community protests that continued for over a year,26 LICH was sold to real estate developers who planned to build high rise condos in its place. The unions now had even more at stake.
Both unions had a long history of community engagement and an orientation towards social justice.27 With over 90,000 members living and working in Brooklyn alone, and hundreds of millions of dollars in pension funds and collective bargaining assets, 1199SEIU is a grassroots powerhouse that can grab the attention of both local healthcare institutions and elected officials. Founded in 1901, NYSNA is a union of 42,000 frontline nurses in the State that, like 1199SEIU, has a history of vigorous organizing and social justice activism.
Bruce Richard, Executive Vice President for 1199SEIU at the time, explained, the unions were in need of new tactics to prevent hospital closures. They’d continued to rely on the same argument with each hospital fight: the community needed the hospital and that workers would suffer from the loss of jobs. By the summer of 2013, Interfaith would become the unions’ tenth hospital closure fight. “We hadn’t had any victories in all that, and now here’s a new one. So we entered this very worried about what we were going to do,” said Richard. Despite their considerable strength, the unions needed community support to build the political will to save Interfaith.
The organizers initially named their effort "the Coalition to Save Interfaith” (“the Coalition”), but soon changed it to "the Coalition to Save and Transform Interfaith," a recognition that keeping the hospital open was not enough. What was needed was a fundamental change in the hospital's way of doing business and its relationship with the community. Coalition organizers quickly realized that transorming Interfaith would require the collective action of unions, community groups, clergy, elected officials and others. They intensified communications with elected officials, faith leaders and community organizers. New York City candidates became actively involved in the Interfaith fight and began using it as a platform. It was an election year, remembered NYSNA organizer, Eliza Carboni: “We were able to use that as leverage for our elected officials.” Ultimately all of Central Brooklyn’s elected officials, including two members of Congress, several State legislators and City Councilors, and the Borough President of Brooklyn, joined the Coalition.
The Coalition soon named Eliza Carboni, Roger Green, Maurice Reid, and Bruce Richard as co-chairs In addition to his union, 1199SEIU, Richard had a long history as a leader of social justice movements. Green and Reid had deep roots in the Central Brooklyn communities and a history of activism and community organizing dating back to the late 1960s’ Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher strike/community control movement in Central Brooklyn. The Coalition set a goal “to [t]ransform Interfaith [and] fully integrate [it] into the community so that its economic impact is felt by local businesses and job seekers.”
"The biggest thing we did right was that everybody just kept showing up, and stuck together and kept doing it."
Coalition leaders recruited all of the Central Brooklyn Community Boards, local representative bodies charged with improving delivery of municipal services to the district. And they built unlikely partnerships, for example, with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). DOHMH’s health profile for Brownsville and East New York helped guide coalition efforts. DOHMH began adapting its neighborhood health action centers in these neighborhoods as hubs for community organizing around health.
“We knew the effort had to . . . bring people together. So we just kept creating spaces. We also knew we had to have a broader strategy than Interfaith; we began to focus on Central Brooklyn. . . [t]he coming together of clergy, electeds, community groups and unions around Interfaith was a milestone for the community and for the union  because historically, the union, whenever it had success, it just went and did it itself.”28
What event started the fight to save Interfaith?
What was the argument that the unions had used to fight hospital closures in the past?
How was the strategy for Interfaith different?
Who were the key players in forming the Coalition to Save Interfaith? What was their role?
Why did local elected officials join the fight to save Interfaith?