2000-12-16 / Front Page

Sick To Their Stomachs St. John’s Employees Mistrust Administration

By John C. McLoughlin

Sick To Their Stomachs
St. John’s Employees Mistrust Administration

Just more than a year after declaring Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway is heading into U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Thursday, December 21 for approval of reorganization plans, which have come under considerable criticism from many of the hospital’s employees who believe that the quality of patient care will suffer.

Episcopal Health Services, the mother organization of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, filed Chapter 11 on November 15, 1999. At the time of the filing Reverend Orris Walker jr., president and chairman of the EHS Board of Managers, said, "It’s business as usual while we work to restructure our debt." The outstanding debt was estimated at $150 million.

Ronald Weitz, chief executive officer of St. John’s, said the 13-month period that it took to take St. John’s out of bankruptcy is "unprecedented."

"It was done with good management, good doctor support, and good employee relations," Weitz said.

While Weitz would not get into specific parts of the reorganization plan, or comment on conversations between management and labor, he did say that initiatives were taken to "run a good and efficient hospital."

Employees of the hospital and leaders of 1199 Health and Human Service Union are wary of EHS’ plans. While concessions have been made, employees told The Wave they are "being plagued with unfair work demands even at this juncture."

The administration of St. John’s is looking to add an additional two and a half hours of work time per week without pay; remove job protection for part-time employees; prevent employees from using accrued holiday, personal or vacation days; and pay 21 cents on the dollar on a contractual lump sum of $1800, which was in lieu of a raise and was to be paid a year ago.

There is also the threat that the administration will file an 1113 motion in court and remove the collective bargain agreement in full, resulting in employees losing benefits, job protection, and grievance rights.

Weitz and the administration of St. John’s would not comment on the 1113 motion or potential layoffs as part of the reorganization plan.

"We have and are willing to make changes to accomplish this bankrupt hospital and take care of our clients," said Gerald Nordenberg, vice president of 1199, "but they have to work with us also."

Nordenberg said the administration could find further savings in staggering shifts and focusing on scheduling, but has not done so as of this point. Employees also made reference to the approximately $40,000 per week that will be paid in administrative services to Kurron Management after EHS emerges from Chapter 11.

"It’s ridiculous to think management will get $40,000 per week when they want us to work for free," one employee said.

Employees were also concerned with how Corbett Price, the chief executive officer of EHS, would handle the reorganization, in light of his past history.

"Corbett Price can say, ‘Look what I did...I got them out of bankruptcy in 13 months,’ but not talk about the aftermath," said one employee familiar with Price’s management style.

Price, who also is the chief executive officer at Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn, has a history of turning around financially troubled institutions.

Employees of Interfaith have complained that Price’s "single-minded focus on the bottom line" has come at the expense of patient care. Inadequate staffing in critical care areas, filthy bathrooms and the constant changing of supply vendors are just a few of the issues.

Richard Hernandez, spokesperson for the nurses union, was quoted in a July 9, 1999 Newsday article as saying about Price, "He has cut, slashed and burned the staff to the point where it’s almost impossible to deliver high-quality care."

It’s this history that leaves the employees of St. John’s with a queasy feeling in their stomachs.

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