(Left to right): Cleon Edwards, of Queens Hospital in Jamaica; Susan Browning of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills; health justice attorney Sarika Saxena and organizer and educator Tanya Mattos, both from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; and New York University graduate and social worker Michael Coley, of Mt. Sinai Health Partners.
BY TRONE DOWD
The Queens Solidarity Coalition, a newly formed group of local civic organizations and leaders, held the first of three healthcare town halls in Jamaica on Wednesday night to discuss the deficiencies in healthcare offerings.
“Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health is the most shocking and inhumane,” said Ethan Felder, who is a co-founder of the coalition, along with community and education activist Mazeda Uddin. “We know that despite all of the progress we’ve made, race is a significant factor in determining whether an individual receives high quality care and health outcomes. We know that quality healthcare in Southeast Queens, particularly, can be far more accessible to so many.”
Felder mentioned that hospitals such as Mary Immaculate Hospital and Peninsula Hospital Center have left Queens, preventing access to proper care for thousands. He pointed out that the ratio of available primary care providers to residents in Southeast Queens is the lowest in the borough.
“It’s not alright,” Felder said. “It’s not alright for politicians to be quiet about it or offering nice words and no actions. We are here to make our voices heard and make it known that this matters.”
Felder has worked with a number of local organizations, including the Urban Agenda group that was founded by Southeast Queens’ Jamal Wilkerson, as well as Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, the New York Immigration Coalition and NYC Health and Hospitals.
“We need to have this kind of dialogue,” Wilkerson said. “As our president just figured out, healthcare is not easy. We need to see what we can come up with together.”
Wilkerson called Southeast Queens a “healthcare desert,” which he said was a realization that came to him shortly after his mother was diagnosed with stage-three cancer 18 months ago.
“We have Jamaica Hospital and St. John’s Hospital,” he said. “At the end of the day, we don’t have any real urgent care facilities. When you look at the fact that I have to take my mother all the way to Long Island to get proper quality healthcare treatment, so she can kick cancer’s butt—that says something.”
The panel of specialists boasted a variety of expertise. It included Susan Browning, the executive director of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, health justice attorney Sarika Saxena, Mt. Sinai Health Partners social worker Michael Coley, organizer and educator for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Tanya Mattos, and Cleon Edwards, who is the head of external affairs at Queens Hospital Center.
Residents who attended were able to speak with the panel and pick their brains on how to deal with the lack of healthcare facilities in the area. The event also provided information for immigrants and communities of color on the services available to them locally.
Felder told the Press of Southeast Queens that the Queens Solidarity Coalition’s next town hall will be held at 1 p.m. on April 30 at Townsend Harris High School. Felder said that while the panel will be different, the event would feature similar grassroots individuals who are knowledgeable in healthcare-related issues.