NEW YORK NURSE: March 2008
by Nancy Webber
The future of Erie County Medical Center is at stake as NYSNA nurses and other union members prepare for a possible legislative battle.
At issue is a proposed “full-asset merger” between the Erie County Medical Center Corporation (ECMCC) and the Kaleida Health System, a move that would privatize the medical center. In order for this to happen, however, the state would have to pass legislation rescinding ECMCC’s status as a public benefit corporation.
It’s a legislative hurdle that ECMCC management, employees, and the surrounding community hope to make as high as possible.
The urge to merge was initiated in December 2007 by the board of directors of the Western New York Healthcare System. The system was created at the behest of the state’s Berger Commission and its board members were appointed by the New York State Department of Health.
NYSNA staff have been assuring members who work at the medical center and Erie County that a merger is neither imminent nor inevitable.
“By recommending a full-asset merger, the board of directors went beyond the mandate of the Berger Commission,” said Gaen Hooley, NYSNA nursing representative.
“The commission required only the creation of a unified board that would recommend ways to end duplication of services.”
She added that other public facilities affected by the Berger Commission, such as SUNY Upstate Medical Center and Van Duyn Hospital and Home, have not been required to change their structure or give up their public status.
If the merger does occur, county residents, especially the uninsured and underinsured, are likely to have less access to care and the services offered at the medical center could change drastically. The future of the Erie County Home, which is part of ECMCC, would be in doubt.
Nurses would no longer be public employees and would no longer participate in the state employee retirement system. Hospital employees who belong to CSEA and AFSCME would no longer be eligible for membership in their unions.
In addition, the community surrounding the medical center, which already is facing economic hardship, would receive another blow from the loss of jobs.
“This proposed merger has nothing to do with health care,” Hooley said. “It has everything to do with politics.”
NYSNA members are preparing to fight fire with fire, even while they are awaiting a fact-finder’s report on their stalemated contract negotiations. “The merger is one issue in which we’re united with management,” Hooley said.
The nurses and other union members have begun a postcard campaign to inform legislators of the impact of such a change on health care in western New York.
Nurses met in early February with representatives from NYSNA’s Governmental Affairs Department for a strategy session on effective lobbying. The nurses and NYSNA staff are planning other activities such as letter-writing campaigns, legislative visits, and phone calls.
The unions expect to meet soon with representatives from the state Department of Health.