Downstate Workers Continue to Perform Well Despite Being Axed
October 15, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
Each day Lois Cooper goes to work at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn brings her one step closer to the unemployment line. Cooper, 58, is one of the hundreds of SUNY Downstate employees who are losing their jobs as a result of the institution’s controversial “restructuring” plan.
Without intervention from Governor Andrew Cuomo, more are likely to follow as the future of the entire facility located at 470 Clarkson Avenue teeters on uncertainty.
“I’m truly afraid,” Cooper told LaborPress. “I’m an older woman. There’s really no jobs out there, and I worry.”
Cooper, who received her non-renewal notice in August after working at SUNY Downstate for eight years, suffers from chronic hypertension and requires periodic monitoring from her physician. She had planned to work several more years in hopes of obtaining a more secured retirement – but that whole strategy is now in jeopardy as she wonders what comes after her separation date from the job she has held for nearly a decade.
“You have young people coming out of college competing for certain jobs because they also can’t find employment,” Cooper said. “All I wanted to do was work, pay my taxes and take care of my family.”
SUNY Downstate has issued 360 non-renewal notices to date. Cooper estimates that as many as 20 of her colleagues working in the Department of Contracts & Procurement have also been put on the chopping block.
So far, SUNY Downstate administrators have kept mum about their plans for the medical center’s future, which has caused anxiety levels among the staff to skyrocket. Despite those pressures, however, staffers like Cooper remain committed to doing their jobs well and caring for patients – even though they might not have those jobs for very much longer.
“I come to work and do the same thing I would have done if I had never received a non-renewal letter,” Cooper said. “I don’t come in angry.”
The anger and frustration that Cooper feels from being axed is reserved for her off-hours, when it’s often a topic of discussion back home, and she can’t help but wonder why her job is being taken away after 8 years of excellent evaluations. But that’s where those negative emotions stay.
“When I walk into this institution, that attitude doesn’t come in with me because the bottom line is: I have to do my job,” Cooper said. “I’m sort of a perfectionist. My job speaks for me, and is who I am. And I can’t have anything distracting me from doing that. I can’t develop the mentality, ‘Why am I going to work? I’m gong to lose my job anyway.’ Or, ‘I’m going to do this half way because it doesn’t matter.’ It does matter. Because this is me. This situation sucks – yes it does. But it doesn’t affect my work ethic.”
SUNY Downstate’s decision to continue posting job openings even as it sets about firing hundreds of existing employees, has only fueled the confused atmosphere inside the medical center.
“If you’re still hiring why am I losing my job,” Cooper said.
SUNY Downstate spokesperson Ellen Watson confirmed that SUNY Downstate presently has an unspecified number of job openings available owing to normal attrition, and turnover, “in addition to the restructuring process that we’re going through.”
“They’re primarily positions that if they become vacant, they impact the health and safety of our patients, and students and faculty – or they impact the quality of our teaching program and as such they need to be filled,” Watson said.
Continued quality care is something staffers have been worried about since the shakeup was first announced, and continue to worry about today.
“I don’t know how the hospital can run,” Cooper said. “Okay, you’re cutting down on staff, but that doesn’t stop the patients. Those numbers are still coming and increasing everyday. I’m worried about my own situation, but I’m also concerned about how we provide good quality care to the patients who are coming in if we are not adequately staffed.”
For months, United University Professions [UUP], one of the unions representing SUNY Downstate workers, has been imploring the administration to clue in staffers about their restructuring plans. That now appears to finally be happening.
According to the administration, SUNY Downstate Medical Center President Dr. John Williams will hold an on-campus town hall meeting with staffers to discuss the restructuring plan on October 15.
That date can’t come soon enough for staffers like Cooper who have been soldiering on despite many nagging, unanswered questions.
“I’m concerned about my well-being and my livelihood,” Cooper said. “And i just don’t know what’s going to happen.”