By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — In an attempt to quell rumors of Harlem Hospital's demise, community leaders are holding what they call an "emergency town hall" meeting Saturday morning to discuss the future of the troubled facility.
Harlem Hospital is not closing, organizers say. But it is, like all of the city's public hospitals, in serious financial straits and facing service cuts. The point of Saturday's forum, they say, is to set out the facts and rally the public to fight against further reductions.
The news is grim. Earlier this year, the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation announced a massive restructuring to close a $1.3 million budget deficit across its entire hospital system. The cuts include layoffs, combining services and ending affiliation contracts with medical schools.
For Harlem Hospital, that means the potential loss of 41 workers, 13 of them doctors, by the end of this year. The doctors' union protested the cuts in October, saying the cuts would hurt patients.
Harlem Hospital is also "restructuring" its affiliation with Columbia University. Some doctors told their patients that they were leaving, a development that sparked further panic.
That, organizers say, fed rumors that Harlem Hospital was going to close.
"This meeting is to clarify and dispel the myth that Harlem Hospital is closing," said one of the organizers, Raybblin Vargas. "And we want to give people the opportunity to speak their minds, ask questions and allay their fears."
Last month, Harlem Hospital Executive Director John Palmer wrote "an open letter to the Harlem community" to tamp down the fears. In it, he said the hospital was not closing. "We are not going anywhere," he wrote. And hesaid that the change in affiliation with Columbia would not compromise doctors' jobs.
The meeting, to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in the hospital's auditorium, will be sponsored by the Harlem Hospital Community Advisory Board and the four community boards of Upper Manhattan. Invited speakers include Palmer, HHC Senior Vice President LaRay Brown, and leaders of unions that represent hospital employees.
A spokeswoman for Harlem Hospital declined to comment on the meeting.
An HHC spokeswoman confirmed that Palmer and Brown will attend the meeting said said they "will reiterate HHC's long-term commitment to Harlem Hospital and the greater Harlem community."