NEW YORK NURSE: March 2009
by Randi Hoffman
“Sometime in November the rumors started; that was the first inkling,” said Christine Grieco, a critical care nurse who has worked for 20 years at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Queens.
The 162-bed hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court on Feb. 6, and by Feb. 10 the New York State Department of Health had tentatively approved the hospital’s plan to close by Feb. 28. About 260 NYSNA nurses worked at the facility and its affiliated Monsignor H. Fitzpatrick Pavilion, a nursing home with 115 beds.
“They haven’t given me my layoff notice yet, but it’s there for sure,” continued Grieco. “First there were town hall meetings predicting a dire forecast. I went to four or five rallies to keep the hospital open. We lobbied in Albany with other New York City healthcare workers.”
NYSNA nurses were among the hundreds to attend a midday rally at the hospital on Jan. 31 hosted by City Councilman James Gennaro. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall spoke about the shortage of hospital beds in Queens, stating that the borough has fewer than 1.4 hospital beds per thousand people, in contrast to Manhattan’s 7.1 beds per thousand residents.
The nurses were worried about what would happen to their patients when the hospital closed.
Grieco added, “This was a charity hospital. They never asked about insurance. Many of the patients were here illegally from the Caribbean, Africa, South America, or Europe. They didn’t have health insurance through their jobs and they didn’t even have Medicaid or Medicare.”
In 2008, Mary Immaculate Hospital totaled more than 40,000 emergency room visits and 65,000 outpatient visits, a patient load not easily absorbed by the area’s surrounding medical facilities.
Therese Wittner, NYSNA nursing representative, met with a number of lawmakers in an effort to keep the hospital open. “This hospital closure creates a crisis in Queens,” she said. “Poor management and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements below the cost of the services provided added to the hospital’s financial distress. The surrounding hospitals cannot adequately handle the overflow of patients.”
“I’ve run the gamut of emotions; denial, anger, and acceptance,” Grieco said. “You have to move forward, you have to move on. I can’t take a break. My husband is retired and on my health insurance. My family depends on me.” She said she is actively looking for work. “I want a job at another NYSNA facility, but a lot of jobs are frozen.
“I can’t believe it is happening,” said Sharon Whitter-Ajere, an RN in the critical care unit, who has worked for 18 years at Mary Immaculate.
On Feb. 23, NYSNA organized a job fair attended by more than 175 RNs. Beth Abraham Health Services, New York Methodist Hospital, Brooklyn Hospital Center, Staten Island University Hospital, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, and North Shore University Hospital were among the facilities accepting resumes.