By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — More than 50 union workers formerly of North General Hospital will be hired to work at the Institute for Family Health, which recently opened a clinic on the site of the now-defunct hospital.
When the 200 bed North General announced that it was closing and declared bankruptcy in June, city officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rep. Charlie Rangel, Gov. David Paterson and hospital chairman the Rev. Calvin Butts, helped to broker a deal to bring in the Institute of Family Health.
Under a new two-year contract, Local 1199 S.E.I.U will represent the workers, support the Institute's planned purchase of the North General Annex and withdraw their unfair labor practices complaint against the hospital they filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
"Compromise. That's what it was," said Dr. Neil Calman, CEO of the Institute for Family Health. "We realized how important it was to end this struggle so we could deliver health care. It was disrupting too much of our energy as an employer and the union's energy maintaining a picket line."
Local 1199 S.E.I.U began a picket line outside of the hospital because it said the clinic refused to hire its workers and also held a march this summer.
Approximately 900 workers represented by Local 1199 S.E.I.U lost their jobs when North General closed. About 100 of those people worked in North General's clinics. The Institute for Family Health operates with a clinic staff of about 60 people. Calman said he is hiring back roughly 56 union workers.
Negotiations after this two year contract expires will also have to take into consideration that the clinic does not have the same costs structure as a hospital. The union has also agreed to speak with other federally qualified health care clinics about wage rates and benefits.
The Institute for Family Health is also seeking to purchase North General's annex building at East 119th Street and Madison Avenue. The state has pledged to help fund the transformation of the building into a top-of-the-line outpatient clinic. The main hospital building will be turned into a long-term acute care nursing home.
Calman said patients will have access to state of the art medical records keeping to allows patients to obtain their own records over the Internet, and that the rehired workers will also receive additional training.
“This has been an extremely difficult time for our workers and their families," said George Gresham, President of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East. "We are confident that working together with IFH, we will continue providing quality healthcare to Harlem residents."
North General isn't the only area hospital that is having difficulties. Harlem Hospital is set to lay off workers and cut some services at the end of this year due to budget constraints.
Calman said those cuts would make the work at his clinic much more difficult.
"Public hospital facilities are grossly undefunded," Calman said. "It is where the sickest and most underpiveledged go for care. i'm concerned about their ability to support their quality of care because we don't want to start seeing people who are more sick because they couldn't get services."