Meet our 2023
Single Payer Champions!
Our first 2023 honoree, Dr. Marc Lavietes, an esteemed pulmonary and critical care physician at New Jersey Medical School of Rutgers University and this year’s PNHP NY-Metro 2023 Single-Payer Champion, has long been involved in social justice issues. His first childhood memory of political activism involved observing his parents’ support of US citizens at risk during the McCarthy era.
Over the years Dr. Lavietes has worked for organizations such as the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Health-PAC (Health Policy Advisory Center), Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Physicians for Human Rights, for which he still interviews asylum refugees.
Dr. Lavietes attended his first PNHP NY-Metro meeting in January 2003. Little did he realize that this would be the definitive organization to pursue his commitment to healthcare justice. He volunteered to record the minutes at that first PNHP meeting and he has continued as Secretary to the present day. Dr. Lavietes has participated in many activities of our chapter during the last 20 years, including grand rounds lectures, op-ed and letter-to-the-editor writing - read his June 5, 2023 NY Daily News op-ed here!, and providing testimony at state-wide hearings in support of the NY Health Act, but he is most proud of forming the committee in 2021 to review and revise the organization’s bylaws to accurately reflect and foster its increasingly diverse membership. Dr. Lavietes views a sound chapter governance as his most significant contribution to the NY-Metro Chapter, one for which we are greatly indebted to him.
Dr. Lavietes has always been a supporter of civil rights for all and has quite a few stories to tell. One of his fondest memories occurred as a pulmonary fellow at NYU Bellevue in the 1970’s. Jamil Al-Amin (then known as H. Rap Brown), the famed civil rights activist, was a patient on the Bellevue Prison Ward. When Al-Amin's wife wanted to deliver a letter to her husband, her request was denied. So Dr. Lavietes arrived at the prison ward in his white coat, told the guard that he was there to do a TB test on Al-Amin, and he then secretly delivered his wife’s letter.
Dr. Lavietes envisions a universal, single-payer healthcare system as just the beginning of our work toward healthcare justice. For his contributions to PNHP NY-Metro and all his work throughout the years for social justice, we are absolutely delighted to present Dr. Marc Lavietes with the 2023 Single-Payer Champion and Healthcare Justice Award.
Our second 2023 honoree, the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a union of over 27,000 interns, residents, and fellows in 11 states and Washington, DC, is an organization that works to protect the rights of house officers and patients to promote healthcare justice.
CIR is the largest housestaff and fastest growing healthcare union in the nation, working to improve residency training, education and access to care. Through collective bargaining, organizing and advocacy, they have improved the conditions of residency training programs which, in turn, have improved the quality of care.
CIR has formed a number of committees to address the many broader issues in healthcare reform. These include the Committee on Political Education (COPE) which was formed in 1981 to work with legislators and is rapidly expanding, the Patient Care Trust Fund which provides funding for community health projects, including better equipment in public healthcare facilities, and the Family Health Challenge which focuses on healthy eating, just to name a few. They have also been investigating the root causes of burnout and working toward innovative ways to deal with this issue.
CIR is a strong advocate for universal healthcare and they have worked with the offices of both Representative Jayapal and Senator Sanders in promoting the newly introduced Medicare for All bills. They have filmed healthcare stories that illustrate the need for health care reform. They have supported both state and federal single payer legislation that addresses the many injustices in our healthcare system, such as the astronomical cost of pharmaceuticals, rising student debt, and racial discrimination.
Seeking to address the disparity between public and private hospitals, CIR members at Elmhurst Hospital went on a three day strike this May - and won! - after almost a year of their employer, Mount Sinai, not addressing public and private hospital pay disparities in their contract negotiations. They continue to fight for equitable treatment for patients and healthcare workers alike.
PNHP understands that the future of healthcare justice lies with those who are just entering the medical field. We are so proud that many of our former Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) student members remain health justice activists and are now leaders in CIR. Because CIR is a model union whose work is so critical in promoting healthcare justice, we are absolutely thrilled to present them with the 2023 PNHP NY Metro Single Payer Champion Award.
Our third and final 2023 honoree, Buunni Coffee, is a business that has emphasized social responsibility and been a champion for the NY Health Act.
Sarina Prabasi and Elias Gurmu opened Buunni Coffee 11 years ago as a café offering various coffees and delicious pastries. Using coffee as a vehicle, their goal was to provide a venue for discussions of social justice issues to promote community engagement. Buunni Coffee is about people and meaningful connection.
Having lived in various countries across the globe, from Ethiopia to Nepal, Sarina and Elias have experienced many healthcare systems, noting that the US system is the most costly, inequitable, and the least efficient. Even in lower-income countries where they have lived, there is a commitment from the government to provide healthcare for all despite limited resources.
As a small business they feel a moral obligation to provide health insurance for their employees, yet they are financially unable to do so. Thus, they have been strong advocates of the New York Health Act, testifying in Albany, providing literature to the public, and opening their doors to host community events in support of the bill with other local advocates.
Sarina and Elias understand that universal healthcare is good for both business and society. Guaranteed, comprehensive healthcare would level the playing field with wealthier businesses that currently have the advantage, and would provide needed safety and security for their workers, about whom they care deeply.
Because of their extraordinary neighborhood organizing, their deep commitment to universal healthcare and their remarkable efforts to promote the New York Health Act, we are honored to present Buunni Coffee with the 2023 PNHP Health Justice Award.
Over the last year, PNHP NY Metro has continued improving and expanding our organizing and programming efforts, including:
🎯 Planning and executing a Universal Healthcare Legislative Advocacy Fellowship to train a new generation of health workers and students to be leaders in single payer advocacy.
🎯 Increasing outreach to professional organizations and unions to promote the NY Health Act.
🎯 Monthly educational forums with focuses ranging from lessons to be learned from the Indian Health System to the current attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community and the resulting health challenges, especially to the transgender community.
🎯 Enhancing collaboration with movement partners to advance health justice initiatives.
🎯 Creating relationships with state and federal legislators to educate them about the dangerous attempts to privatize Medicare, allowing for public tax dollars to go straight into private investors’ pockets.
For the first time since 2019, we will be hosting this annual gathering in-person to celebrate our work as a community.
We look forward to toasting our 2023 Single-Payer Champions with you all!