Brooklyn, NY – Workers at Maimonides Medical Center on 10th Avenue in Borough Park are entering this holiday season with
a razor-sharp axe held over their heads after hospital administrators suddenly announced earlier this week that at as many 200 employees will be laid off beginning December 15.
“We just heard about [the layoffs] yesterday, or the day before yesterday,” transport orderly Jenny Santiago told LaborPress during a lunchtime rally held outside the hospital on Thursday. “They called us to the auditorium. We had a meeting; and that’s when they started telling us. They didn’t warn us. We just heard rumors of people getting laid off.”
Steve Kamer, executive vice-president for 1199SEI, called what could be the largest layoff in Maimonides Medical Center history, an “evil act.”
“I don’t say that [Maimonides Medical Center President and CEO] Ken Gibbs is an evil person…but, unfortunately, he never discussed this layoff,” Kramer told distraught but defiant workers. “They never had a job freeze. They never had an overtime freeze. They did nothing to contact 1199 to say, ‘What can you do to get extra funds for Maimonides?’ They did nothing but drive themselves into the hole; mismanage, whatever else they did wrong — they didn’t do anything to make this place run the way it’s supposed to run.”
Hospital administrators are blaming the carnage on systemic problems plaguing US healthcare overall.
“Maimonides—like hospitals across the region and country—is working through the reality of our industry’s economics: flat or declining government reimbursement rates coupled with rising costs,” Maimonides’ PR team said in a statement. “Because of that trend, and in order to produce a fiscally sound budget for 2018, our workforce of 6,500 will be reduced by up to 200 positions in areas that will have the least impact on clinical care.”
The hospital further characterized the institution’s financial situation this way: “Government reimbursement rates for Medicaid have been flat for over a decade. Five years ago, hospitals also had to absorb the impact of DSH cuts and the two-midnight rule. At the same time, inflation in virtually all healthcare expense categories is adding to financial challenges for hospitals.”
Longtime staffers told LaborPress that the hospital simply cannot maintain current levels of patient care if administrations go ahead with the announced layoffs.
“Oh, no,” said Maureen Piccione, a Chemistry Lab worker with more than 30 years on the job. “We’re already short-staffed.
We’re short-staffed, we’re overworked and underpaid. We’re forced to do overtime and I don’t see how they can lay people off.”
Normally, Santiago can expect to transport about 25 patients back and forth to various examinations throughout her work day. On Thursday, however, the 15-year hospital veteran had already transported 19 patients before Noon.
She isn’t buying the hospital administration’s fiscal justifications for layoffs.
“That’s what they are saying; but I think it’s all a lie,” Santiago said. “Even our delegates didn’t know about this [auditorium] meeting. They laid off 115 people that have family and children. Right before the holidays? It’s not fair. We are all in jeopardy. We don’t know if we are safe and have a job tomorrow.”
Piccione said that she doesn’t believe the corporate line about economics either.
“It’s really not fair and I don’t believe anything that management tells us,” Piccone said. “It’s so unfair for people that really need the jobs. Take out some of the management people — the higher ups. We need the poor people working.”
In an effort to avert devastating layoffs, 1199SEIU has crafted a 10-point plan, it believes can help solve the crisis. Among the remedies, the union is calling on hospital employees earning more than $150,000 to temporarily reduce their handsome pay packages. Other recommendations include freezing overtime hours and soliciting help directly from both city and state officials.
The union also wants to scrutinize Maimonides’ financial records and convene an emergency council comprised of hospital administrators and 1199 SEIU delegates.
“Our [layoff] notice was two-days before [hospital administrators] gave out the 30 day notice,” 1199SEIU VP Coraminita Mahr
said. “That is totally inappropriate. It’s unacceptable. It’s outrageous. It’s almost leveling on a criminal act to do that before the holidays. There has been no attempt to do anything to prevent this. Nothing. This makes no sense.”
Cops threatened to prematurely shut down Thursday’s rally before staffers had a chance to return to work and union delegates could deliver the 10-point plan to hospital administrators, but cooler heads and a fleet-footed Kramer kept the demonstration going.
News about the impending layoffs was so sudden, the union didn’t have to time to file for a permit to picket outside the hospital — that job action could happen on December 10, if workers vote in favor.
“Damned right it’s a crisis,” Kramer said. “It was an evil act right before the holidays.”