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Ailing Downtown Hospital Cuts Entire Residency Program

LOWER MANHATTAN — New York Downtown Hospital has slashed its entire residency program, leaving more than 70 young doctors scrambling to find new jobs, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

The decision to shutter the doctor training program, which the hospital confirmed officially closes June 30, comes as the financially troubled hospital is about to be taken over by New York-Presbyterian.

But while the takeover will rescue the only hospital below 14th Street, several upset Downtown Hospital residents said they feel like they're getting lost in the shuffle, trying to find a placement in a different hospital just months after cutting ties with their union under the mistaken belief that doing so might help them keep their jobs at Downtown Hospital.

“It’s extremely tough — we’re working 36-hour shifts, then trying to make calls to different hospitals and go on interviews to find a new place to work,” said one frustrated resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job search.

“It’s busy, we’re stretched thin as it is and we really don’t have enough support.”

Residencies are federally funded, competitive programs that doctors enter right after they graduate from medical school. While running on little sleep and little money, the young medics spend their three-to-five-year residencies gaining hands-on experience in their specialty.

Downtown Hospital, for example, offered residencies in podiatry, internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology.

When word spread in November that the hospital was set to merge with New York-Presbyterian, many residents were happy, thinking they would have a shot at becoming part of the more prestigious medical center.

That hope started to crumble when Downtown Hospital's administrators warned in a Dec. 27 letter that the residents' positions were in jeopardy, according to documents.

As a last-ditch effort to hold onto their spots, the residents agreed in January to break their agreement with The Committee of Interns and Residents, a national union that had represented them in negotiating their salaries and other benefits since 2010.

“There was a rumor circulating that with a union, we would have no chance to join New York-Presbyterian — which doesn’t have unions,” said another Downtown Hospital resident, who also asked that her name be withheld.

“We knew it wasn’t guaranteed, but we thought, 'What do we have to lose?'"

But just a couple of weeks after residents ended their union agreement, the hospital announced, in a letter dated Jan. 31, that the program was shutting down and the residents would be out of a job by June 30.

Heather Appel, a spokeswoman for The Committee of Interns and Residents, said if the residents had decided not to leave the union, it could have helped them bargain for more support and search for a new job.

"If the residents had instead chosen to stick together and remain members of CIR, we could have done impact bargaining, where we bargain with the hospital to reimburse travel for job interviews, help facilitate the job search, ensure that they receive paid time off they are owed, etc.," Appel said.

The frustrated Downtown Hospital resident said that in hindsight, breaking with the union wasn't the best idea.

“We take responsibility for what we did by ending our union contract, but we felt duped — it felt shady,” the resident said. “The hospital must have known that we were being let go for a long time, and without a union now we have less of a safety net, we're left more on own."

Adding salt to their wounds, several residents said they were told after they were let go that NY Presbyterian would eventually refill their spots with residents of their own choosing.

And creating extra hassle and confusion, residents said the new hospitals they move to will have to negotiate with New York Downtown about funding for their new position.

"I had one hospital where I was interviewing tell me, 'Wow, your hospital really dumped you on the street,'" another resident said. "That's basically how I feel."

In addition to losing their jobs, residents are also being pushed out of their coveted subsidized housing, where rents range from $548 to $800 per month.

"We're being uprooted from our lives — entire families are having to relocate," another resident said. "This whole process has been so confusing, and the hospital basically said, 'Sorry, good luck.'"

Downtown Hospital representatives said the hospital was helping residents find new jobs, though some of the doctors said they had not received any assistance.

“This move will allow New York Downtown to focus its resources on providing enhanced healthcare services to the communities in lower Manhattan, where New York Downtown is now the only hospital,” Anthony Ercolano, a spokesman for Downtown Hospital, said in a statement.

“The hospital’s current residents have been notified of the program’s closure, and the hospital will assist them in obtaining placements at other hospitals.”

New York-Presbyterian declined to comment.