NEW YORK NURSE: April 2011
by Mark Genovese
As this edition went to press, a deal was set to finalize for Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to be acquired by the University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB). This will maintain vital healthcare services for residents of Cobble Hill and save nearly 2,500 employee jobs, including the 450 RNs NYSNA represents there.
Corporate parent Continuum Health Partners had been looking to divest itself of LICH in recent years and agreed to the acquisition after more than a year of talks. As part of the transaction, a total of $62 million would be provided to the hospitals through New York State Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law (HEAL) capital grants. UHB received $40 million and LICH is set to receive $22 million – but only if the deal goes through.
The Health Department threw a wrench in the works in February when it said the funding might not be available. It said that if the U.S. government does not renew its Federal-State Health Reform Partnership waiver agreement in September, the state may not be able to fund some HEAL grants. The Health Department added that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration was reviewing pending contracts from the previous administration “to ensure that our limited dollars will be spent in the most efficient manner.”
Continuum officials responded that, if the grant wasn’t funded, they would take the hospital into bankruptcy and close it. This alarmed elected public officials, community leaders, and employees alike. NYSNA joined these groups in an intense campaign to put public pressure on the state to keep the grant intact. Within four days, it was announced that the funding would be available.
Under the plan, LICH would become a campus of UHB. It would become a public hospital, which would make it eligible for additional state funding, higher reimbursement rates, and lower medical malpractice coverage. The merger needs agency approval to close, but has already been supported by the state Health Department.
Only the physicians, however, will become public employees. In a novel approach, the RNs and other staff will remain in the private sector as employees of Staffco, a private Brooklyn-based corporation created for this purpose. This will avoid adding nearly 2,000 jobs to an already depleted state budget.
The hospital’s uncertain status has been a major reason that contract negotiations have progressed slowly. Continuum wasn’t willing to bargain because of the pending sale. NYSNA’s most-recent contract with the hospital expired Dec. 31, 2010.
NYSNA has engaged in informal discussions with Staffco about the members’ terms and conditions of employment. These talks can’t be official because Staffco is not yet officially the RNs’ employer. The parties will also need to determine how contract provisions will be handled concerning the RNs’ practice – such as staffing ratios, floating, protesting an assignment, and orientation. Because Staffco does not run the hospital, it doesn’t control how care is delivered.
As of this point, Staffco representatives were unwilling to negotiate over retaining these provisions. It is also proposing a two-tiered pension that would place new hires in a “plan B,” saying this is the same model the state is working on for its employees.