ANNAPOLIS – Health care union officials asked legislatorsThursday to use hospital closing contingency funds to train andrelocate health care workers as soon as hospitals announcemergers or closings.
A program exists now to assist workers who are unemployed asa result of hospital closing, delicensing or merger. But thathelp isn’t made available until a layoff occurs.
Margaret Peisert, director of the Health Care WorkforceProject of the Service Employees International Union, said stepsshould be taken now to avoid layoffs.
“Rather than waiting until laid off workers are alreadydrawing unemployment compensation and looking for new work,”Peisert told members of the Senate Finace Committee, “the stateshould intervene early in areas that are likely to suffersignificant job loss as the health care system restructures.”
Peisert referred to a booklet entitled “DangerousDecisions,” a study the union released at Thursday’s briefing.The study examines the impact of hospital restructuring onMaryland workers and patients, and offers solutions to problems.
According to the booklet, Baltimore-area hospitals willultimately need to close 3,400 beds, two-fifths their currentcapacity.
When the workers who support those beds – including nursesand employees in food service, maintenance and transportation -get laid off, there could be almost 16,000 jobs lost.
According to the booklet, Johns Hopkins and Sinai hospitalsin Baltimore “have been rapidly adding jobs in outpatient clinicsand home care, but for existitng hospital workers to gain accessto the new clinic jobs they have to start over – after losingtheir current pay and benefit levels, seniority rights, and unionrepresentation.”
Both hospitals argue that their outpatient facilities arejoint ventures with other employers and thus they are unable tosimply allow workers to transfer to jobs in these new facilities,the booklet said.
Sen. Larry Young, D-Baltimore, nodded in approval during theunion’s proposal.
“In the next two to three years we will see at least 1,000beds in the metropolitan Baltimore area… come to closure,”Young said.
Young recalled the problems caused by previous hospitalmergers.
“I was remembering the pain and the agony it took to putLiberty Medical and Providence Hospital through that process … of folks who were left without jobs,” he said. “It was a verydramatic period.”
Officials at the Maryland Health Resources PlanningCommission – which announces hospital mergers – said they hadbeen “verbally made aware” of potential mergers but could notcomment until written notice had been received.
Nancy Fiedler, spokesperson for the Maryland HospitalAssociation, said she expects mergers but “it’s impossible topredict [when] at this point. That kind of question is tough toanswer in this day and age.”
Said Young: “This union is to be commended because they’resaying `rather than waiting for 1997 or 1998 … let’s preparenow and train these folks.”
Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County,agreed. “It’s the first time that I’ve heard a union is now lookingto take care of it’s brothers and sisters before problems occur,and I admire you for that,” Bromwell said. -30-