1999-08-21 / Front Page

Critical Care Needed

St. John’s Future In Doubt


Employees of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital rallied outside the hospital entrance on Monday, August 16 to protest the administration’s move to make layoffs and close units.

Local elected officials, residents, employees and administrators of St. John’s came together to discuss the financial crisis at the hospital on Tuesday, August 17. The panel included (left to right) Janet Keenam director of Development and Public Relations; Julie Mirkin, associate administrator; Carolyn Beck, senior associate administrator; Linda Foy, director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs; Lew Simon, moderator for the meeting and Democratic district leader; and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.

By John McLoughlin

Management-labor tensions continued to mount as employees of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway held a demonstration on Monday, August 16 to bring attention to the layoffs and floor closures announced by the administration last month.

Led by union officials, employees marched in front of the hospital with a casket, symbolizing their expected demise of the hospital. But Carolyn Beck, senior associate administrator at St. John’s, told a crowd at a town hall meeting the following day that "EHS {Episcopal Health Services} is not planning to close or sell St. John’s Episcopal South Shore…we have created an operational plan to meet and address issues."

Employees have expressed their concern with expected layoffs, which union officials said is about 95 in total. Beck said that "downsizing has and will occur" and that resignations, retirements, vacancies and layoffs will "play into reduction of workforce." There are approximately 1500 full-time and part-time employees at St. John’s, meaning the reduction would be equivalent to four to six percent.

Patient care also was a concern for those who attended the Tuesday, August 14 town hall meeting at Beth-El Temple Church in Far Rockaway. The 10th floor of the hospital, known as Tower 10 to employees and administrators, was closed, alarming the public that St. John’s was unable to provide adequate patient care. Beck said the closing of the floor was done to "utilize staff, space in a more efficient manner," but clarified to the public that the floor can be used if the number of patients increased. Beck reassured residents and employees that beds are still vacant, saying that St. John’s is "not overflowing."

In hopes of easing minds of the attendees of the town hall meeting, Beck said St. John’s continues to strengthen patient services, such as a new cardiac care center, a new hospital information system and a new CAT scan machine.

With the fear that tomorrow will bring "sudden changes," Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who moderated the town hall meeting, asked "Do you have money to keep the payroll going?," which Beck responded with "we have developed an operational plan."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer challenged the administration to "share your plan if you have one," reminding them that the hospital’s money comes from federal and state authorities.

One union rep questioned why Corbett Price, the new CEO of Episcopal Health Services, has not met with employees and Rockaway residents. "Come meet with us and put things on the table," he said. Union reps who attended the meeting want the administration to share the "burden of change," asking the administration to downsize management and cut the salary of administrators to "save the hospital."

Debbie Rice, a St. John’s employee, spoke at the town hall meeting and said she fears that since benefits have not been paid by the hospital to employees, her asthmatic son will suffer. "I can’t afford my little boy’s medical bills," said Rice.

Administrators have said they can’t pay into the benefit fund and the $1800 employee bonus as arranged by contract. "Employees do deserve it, but we are unable to meet that obligation," said Beck. The hospital has asked Local 1199 for a deferment.

One attendee who spoke said to the administration reps, "nice having you, but you’re not responding to most of the questions…why are you here?" The crowd became restless with what many felt were the lack of answers and Simon ended the meeting telling the panel the public was "nauseous" with the lack of honesty by the administration.

Gerry Nordenberg, vice president of 1199, called for a "full investigation into finances of St. John’s" and if EHS can’t run St. John’s it would be necessary to "explore someone else who wants to."

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