Hospital lays off 77

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Since taking over Northside Medical Center and other facilities from Forum Health, executives with ValleyCare Health System of Ohio said they’ve taken steps to bring the hospital back from bankruptcy and put it on solid footing.

Changes have been made with the hope of encouraging more residents to choose Northside over other local health care centers, but those changes may not have come soon enough.

Chief Executive Officer Kirk Ray announced on Thursday the equivalent of 77 full-time employees at Northside, both union and non-union, will be furloughed over the next couple of weeks. The actual number impacted could be much higher depending on how many part-time employees will be involved. The release suggests problems associated with the nation’s Affordable Care Act and expected changes in state Medicaid funding could mean less government funding down the road.

“With those anticipated cuts, not just in 2014 but projected out over the next ten years, what’s something hospitals are considering very seriously,” said John Palmer with the Ohio Hospital Association.

As word of the layoffs was trickling through the rank and file Friday, union leaders at Northside Medical Center admit they were aware the facility was having financial problems, but this week’s announcement caught them off guard.

“Our workers are a little shocked. We knew the volumes were down. We were not expecting cuts to be as large as they were,” said Chrissy Heimenan, SEIU Local 1199.

Ironically, the cuts come just weeks after administrators broke ground for a $20 million expansion at Northside aimed at adding new technology and attracting more patients, which union leaders claim is the real key to solving the hospital’s financial problems.

“We remain confident as patient volumes increase and people of the community see these improvements being made at Northside that ValleyCare will return these employees back to work,” said Anthony Caldwell, spokesman for SEIU District 1199.

The cuts are expected to impact roughly 33 full-time-equivalent positions for the SEIU and six or seven in the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association. Because of existing contract language, those affected SEIU layoffs will begin in a week, but the workers will continue getting paid for another two weeks.

The nurses union has worked without a contract for nearly a year and has been negotiating with the company. The union met last month with legislators to express their concerns.

The hospital on July 9 began the first part of a five-year, $80 million construction project that will expand the hospital.

The first phase is a 30,000 square foot tower that will house endoscopy suites, a new entrance and new emergency rooms.

The hospital was purchased from bankrupt Forum Health in 2010 by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems. The project is the most expensive at the hospital in the past 15 years.

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