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Monday, March 25, 2013

As Westerly Hospital buy-out deal nears conclusion, buyer makes more staff cuts

Unions accuse Lawrence & Memorial Hospital of contradictory claims
By Will Collette

Even though Lawrence and Memorial Hospital has told the RI Health Department that it has $200 million in liquid assets, from which it can pay the $69 million to buy Westerly Hospital, L&M has laid off or cut the hours of an additional 22 more L&M staff.

Harry Rodriguez, president of L+M Healthcare Workers Union Local 5123, one of three AFT Connecticut unions at the hospital, told the New London Day, "We're not looking to stop the sale of Westerly Hospital, but we want answers to the claim that they have no money.”

Stephanie Johnson, president of L+M LPN/Techs Local 5051 told the Day, "I'm troubled by the fact L&M has committed to maintaining staff at Westerly while they are laying off staff here. Especially when they have $69 million to purchase Westerly."

The unions also point out that L&M has reported a lower operating [profit] margin as the reason for its staff layoffs and cutbacks, but that the lower margin was due to the hospital’s decision to transfer hospital funds to its non-union wholly-owned subsidiaries.

The unions have filed unfair labor practice charges against Lawrence and Memorial’s administration.

Compounding the unions' anger and frustration is Lawrence & Memorial's recent capital spending spree. In addition to the $69 million committed to the purchase of Westerly Hospital, the Waterford Patch detailed these planned additional outlays:

  • $23 million for a new Dana Farber cancer treatment facility in Waterford;
  • $12 million in equipment purchases
  • $6.9 million to spruce up a building the hospital bought from Pfizer
Not bad for an organization that has cut 44 of its workers because it needed the money. While spending on this expansion, L&M has already closed its sports medicine department, causing serious problems for area high school and college athletic programs, and plans to close down obstetrics at Westerly.

In an earlier article, I noted that in addition to the on-going alleged anti-worker practices, Lawrence & Memorial also scored poorly in ratings done by Medicare and private health care monitoring services. L&M’s scores in many important categories are worse than Westerly Hospital’s, even though L&M is supposed to be the one coming to Westerly’s rescue.

As I wrote in my earlier article, the L&M buy-out needs to happen, or Westerly Hospital dies quickly. However, it is distressing to see that L&M management seems to be more interested in boosting profits than in patient care or fair treatment of its workers. It will take continuing community involvement – and probably some community pressure – to make sure that L&M actually helps Westerly Hospital to make a positive turn-around. Simply extending how long it takes Westerly Hospital to die is not good enough.

Better to invoke a “DNR” order than to allow that to happen.

NOTE: The next public meeting on the L&M-Westerly merger is scheduled for Wednesday, March 27 at the Westerly Middle School, 10 Sandy Hill Road, Westerly. Public comment will be accepted during the scheduled public informational meetings. Two sessions will be held on March 27 - one from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the second from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

You can also file comments on the plan until April 3. Click here to review the documents.