1999-07-23 / Front Page

Future In Doubt?

St. John’s Lays Off 95
By John McLoughlin (with Norman Silverman)

Light at the end of the tunnel seems to be dimmer day by day as St. John’s Episcopal Hospital announced that 95 employees will be fired and the 10th floor of the hospital will be closed by August 15. Employees rallied together throughout the week in hopes of saving their jobs, administrators talked of "creating more effective service delivery," and residents wondered whether St. John’s Episcopal Hospital would be a safe choice for patient care.

According to a press release from St. John’s, the newly appointed interim CEO, Corbett Price, signed an agreement likely to lead to the sale of Episcopal Health Service’s Smithtown hospital to Catholic Health Services of Long Island. Price said the transaction will enable EHS "to secure a viable future for all the remaining components of EHS, which includes St. John’s Hospital in Far Rockaway."

Ronald Weitz, acting chief administrative officer of EHS, said "we are downsizing" and promised that "no services would be eliminated or diminished." With no plans for bankruptcy "at the moment," Weitz said EHS is "trying to improve the financial productivity of the organization."

As part of their comprehensive strategic plan to "save" St. John’s, the administration informed employees this week that there would be layoffs, the 10th floor, which treats medical patients, would be closed, and the Surgical Care Unit, which treats heart and respiratory patients, would merge with ICU and CCU on floor eight.

Employees, who asked that their name not be used for fear of retaliation by the administration, told The Wave that patient care is already suffering, with absent staff not being covered and some night workers unable to prepare patients for early morning operations. Workers also told of dietary problems because of an outside contractor, Aramark Food Service, which provides the same meals to all patients. One employee told of a patient without teeth who was served a bagel. "Will it be a safe thing to come here?," said one worker.

Several meetings and rallies took place over the past week, organized by Local 1199 SEIU, to create community awareness. "EHS is really trying to hide the shortage of staff and closing of floors from the community," said Bruce Lane, union organizer. Throughout the employee meeting, members complained that Price would not meet with staff, hold a town hall meeting in Far Rockaway, or even answer telephone calls. They complained that the hospital has not paid an $1800 bonus as required by their contract and that the union has been covering the benefits for employees.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who attended the employee meetings, told The Wave that Robert Levine, CEO of Peninsula Hospital Center, said he would discuss merger with St. John’s if they were willing. Peninsula Hospital Center informed The Wave that merger is not an option, but will "look to speak with them {St. John’s} in collaborative efforts."

Nancy Simmons, regional administrator of EHS, said "The welcome mat is always out… St. John’s has a bright future. We are growing and strengthening our services to our neighbors and community, who we consider part of our family as neighbors caring for neighbors."

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