About 30 current and former employees at Westchester Medical Center met with county officials in White Plains Tuesday to discuss their options as the medical center deals with its financial troubles.
In an unusually crowded meeting of the county board's community services committee, hospital workers looked for answers after 800 employees have been laid off over the last eight months. The most recent round eliminated approximately 260 positions in early July. Since then, workers, mostly CSEA union members, say they have received few answers from hospital executives.
"Each year the board of directors, who we call upper-management, they got raises," said Arnita Carter, who was laid off in the most recent round after 31 years at the medical center. "We don't understand, the hospital is failing and you're able to give yourself and your board a raise?"
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Part of the reason for the large turnout was a scheduled visit from Westchester Medical Center CEO Michael Israel, who meeting chair Alfreda Williams (D - District 8) said canceled the previous day. According to Williams, Israel said he didn't want to attend because he was concerned union negotiations would be discussed in public. Robert Boland, who sits on the 15-member hospital board, did attend and discussed the hospital's finances with the four present members of the committee.
Boland said the hospital has built up debt mostly because it has been unable to keep up with increased state pension and health insurance costs that have become unsustainable over the last few years. He said even after the layoffs the hospital is projected to make a meager $7,000 profit in 2012.
But union leadership said they have been mistreated as the hospital tries to work through financial constraints. CSEA Local 860 President John Staino said he feels hospital executives have lied throughout the process, adding that laying off experienced staff members and replacing them with inexperienced workers to save money will only hurt the hospital in the long run.
Attempts to meet with hospital leadership, meanwhile, have been met with resistance, Staino said.
"We're trying to be part of the solution," he said. "But they think we're the enemies."
As a public benefit corporation, Westchester Medical Center is not under the direct control of the county government. The 15-member hospital board, however, is made up of seven members recommended by the county legislature and eight appointed by the governor.
But the county government can work to lobby to avoid funding cuts, something MaryJane Shimsky (D-District 12), said she would like to see more of.
"It saddens me that what's happening here is one segment of the hospital community is going after another side of the hospital community when everybody should be united and going back to Albany and saying 'we have to restructure this system to make it work'," said Shimsky.
Williams added that she is also concerned about the way layoffs have been handled at the medical center, and the possible influence that can have on the people who need it.
"There seems to have been a lack of regard for the kind of dedication and service that the employees have been giving over the years," she said. "The way in which they went about the layoffs possibly wasn't the best way of doing things."