Not only was Arnita Carter laid off from her job of 31 years with less than 10 days notice—she also had to train the new person who took her job. She is now left wondering how she will provide for her family.
“I don’t have a job, I don’t have any benefits,” said Carter, a Mount Vernon resident who was a senior nursing assistant. “I gave half of my life to Westchester Medical Center and I can’t understand what happened to us.”
Carter, along with a dozen or so other former nursing assistants, who were among the estimated 260 laid off by Westchester Medical Center as of July 2, rallied outside the in White Plains Thursday to protest the dismissals.
They say that they were let go so that a private company, Medical Staffing Network (MSN), could hire new nurses aides for half the pay—which the former employees say will result in dangerously low quality care at the medical facility.
According to its website, MSN is based in Florida and offers nurse staffing positions via per diem, local contract or travel assignments. The former nursing assistants say that MSN was hired by the hospital about two months ago.
“We get this letter saying we're not qualified enough [for their current positions], but yet still we had to train those people who they [MSN] sent in, “said White Plains resident Pauline Everett, who worked as a nursing assistant for 24 years. “After we finished training them, [the hospital] gave us a letter firing us.”
Everett and Carter say that their union, CSEA Local 9201, didn’t receive any prior notification and the nursing assistants were dismissed without benefits, severance or the opportunity for negotiation.
A letter dated June 2012 from the hospital’s President and CEO Michael Israel to hospital employees announced the implementation of “an improved model of patient care support on all acute inpatient units, introducing patient care assistants to the workforce at WMC [Westchester Medical Center].”
The letter states that’s that MSN would be providing and managing the “patient care assistants” to enhance the “standardization and certification, responsibilities, duties and training. While approximately 260 vacant and filled WMC positions will be permanently closed, the partnership with MSN provides more flexibility in staffing, allowing for the capability to provide for higher staffing levels when patient census acuity or other factors require.”
The letter states that MSN’s patient care assistants will be certified by New York State and must have one-year’s worth of clinical experience, which Westchester Medical Center doesn’t currently require. However, the hospital’s laid off nursing assistants say that they were suddenly told by the hospital that they weren’t certified, but that MSN offered them jobs even despite their lack of certification, based on their experience.
“During that time the hospital told us we didn’t have to be certified to work, since we were covered under the hospital’s license,” said Everett. “One [the hospital] is saying all of a sudden that we’re not qualified, but you [MSN] want to hire us as we are.”
While all those who were laid off by the hospital will be allowed to apply for jobs with MSN—the former nursing assistants say if they did, they would only be paid half as much.
“They want to pay us $13 an hour,” said Carter. “I was making $22 and hour with benefits, but it took me 32 years to make that.”
Everett’s starting salary was $7.25, she now makes $23 an hour.
“I don’t understand why they are saying we get paid too much,” said Everett. “We worked for that. You can look around who they laid off. Most of us are foreigners and are West Indian or Black. It’s all been colored people.”
The protestors criticized the Civil Service Employee Association (CSEA) for their insufficient attempts to help them, as many of the nursing assistants are union members. John Staino, president of CSEA Westchester Local 860, said at the protest that CSEA has filed grievances with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“These people were just thrown out like yesterday’s garbage at the medical center,” said Staino. “There've been layoffs, upon layoffs, upon layoffs and we’re concerned about patient care and of quality of service—and our jobs too. They say they’re world-class medicine, but they’re starting to pay Wal-Mart prices for their employees.”
In January, the hospital laid off about 140 CSEA workers from the Behavioral Health Center weeks after cutting 250 other hospital positions, according to LoHud.com—who reported that the January layoffs were a results of a $4 million savings that came about after the hospital hired the private firm Liberty Healthcare, based in Pennsylvania. Liberty Healthcare was paid $8.8 million under a three-year contract to hire 125-135 people to reform the treatment model at the Behavioral Health Center, according LoHud.com.
Staino says that those who have been recently fired are the lowest paid workers who are mostly people of color, and questions why the hospital doesn’t cut back on high salaries for executive employees instead.
LoHud.com reported in April that the 20 hospital administrators received pay increases to their total compensation for 2010, including one employee whose pay went up 18 percent—while at the same time laying off 130 workers and announcing an $18 million budget cut. Israel, who makes $1.3 million annually, was among those who received a raise.
Staino says that the recent layoffs and hiring of private companies is direct a attempt to break-up unions and outsource jobs in all of the hospital departments.
“I think they have a game plan,” said Staino. “They’ve researched this. We’ve outsourced all our jobs to these companies that are outside of New York and Westchester. All of these people [who have been laid off] are probably going on unemployment or are going to go bankrupt.”
Carter said that the recent nursing aide cutbacks, which according to The Journal News will save $4 to $5 million a year, has nothing to do with a bad economy.
“I think corporate American under these circumstance became very greedy,” said Carter. “It’s not the economy it’s your greedy pocket.”
Westchester Medical Center did not return inquiries from Patch before this article went to press.