Sunday, March 27, 2011

Honoring their memories

I would like to acknowledge the passing of several wonderful people, whose lives were of service to others, each of whom played a big role at Community General Hospital over many years.

John Morrissey, Jr. passed away on March 23. He was 94 and very much “a gentleman of the old school.” An attorney with the Mackenzie Hughes law firm, Jack practiced law for 70 years. He was a kind and considerate man, whom I admired. Jack joined the Board of Directors at Community General Hospital in 1981, and he served as an officer for most of the 1990s.

One of the original volunteers at Community General, Louis Ketchum died on March 11. Over her decades as a volunteer, Lois gave 9,000 hours of service. She and her husband, Gordon, were mainstays in the volunteer organization. Gordon passed away in 2002. He had a considerable volunteer career himself with 4,700 service hours. A very community-minded couple, Lois and Gordon were a wonderful part of Community General.

William Burke, MD, died on March 11. Bill was a thoracic surgeon who practiced at Community and at other Syracuse hospitals. He worked as a physician into his seventh decade. Bill was well known for his affability and his athleticism. He was a Major in the US Army and was very proud of his service as a MASH surgeon in Vietnam. I will miss his humor and commentary in visits over coffee in the cafeteria.

Finally, I would like to remember Brendan McGrath, our colleague in senior leadership at Community until his untimely death on March 13, 2010. Brendan died in a fierce windstorm in Westchester County while visiting his daughter and his first grand child. We miss his decency and quiet kindness.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The CON has been filed

Upstate Medical University has filed the Certificate of Need (CON) application with the State Department of Health to acquire Community General Hospital. This is an important step as we work to complete the transaction on or about July 1, 2011.

The CON describes the acquisition and how it will benefit Central New York. It includes a discussion of the advantages for Upstate in meeting the existing need for services and in fulfilling its clinical, educational, and research mission in the future. The CON affirms that Upstate seeks to build upon Community's reputation and history and to provide employment opportunities for substantially all of Community employees.

Specifically, the CON states that Upstate’s business plan forecasts growth in the number of discharged patients at the Community campus to some 11,000 by the third year of operation. This is almost 30% more than our 2010 discharges.

In addition, Upstate expects the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees at the Community campus to increase to 1,025. That is about 18% above the hospital’s 2010 FTE count.

The CON also identifies efficiencies that are expected. For example, the Community campus will benefit from Upstate’s lower medical malpractice rates, from expanded service lines and from Upstate’s broader complement of specialty physicians.

As we embark on this next chapter of our hospital’s history, we can take pride in knowing that Community will become part of a regional health care system, that employment opportunities will continue, and that our physicians, work force, and our caring campus will continue to provide the quality care for which we are known.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Our caring campus

For several years Community General Hospital and Van Duyn Home & Hospital have discussed the potential in our combined campus infrastructure for a "continuum of care."

Between the two organizations, we have 110 acres of suburban property dedicated to health care services. In the aerial photo, Community is to the left of the tree line.

Thanks to Upstate Medical University, the future of this caring campus has new potential. Upstate and Community General are planning to become a single hospital this year, and Upstate is in talks with Onondaga County, Van Duyn's owner.

Today's report in the Post-Standard offers a look into the caring campus, as envisioned by a grant application prepared last year by Van Duyn, Upstate, and Community.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thank you, all

Thank you. I want to acknowledge the special efforts made this morning by so many employees who fought the bad weather and, at considerable inconvenience and effort, reported for work at Community General Hospital.

In my 38 winters as a part of the Community family, this morning’s commute was one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging. Thank you for making the effort and following through.

I would also like to acknowledge all who stayed at their jobs after shift-change to assure that care continued for our patients.

The parking lots were “challenging” this morning when we arrived. Plant Operations had been working diligently in a difficult situation, but the weather was unrelenting. Plant Ops has done a great job all year with repeated, major winter storms.

Finally, there were a number of volunteers also made their ways to Community this morning. I thank you all.

I appreciate the commitment and follow-through of so many members of our caring family.

As I look outside at the moment, the sun is shining!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of sadness, appreciation, and optimisim

I have said it is a huge thing for Community to join the Upstate system.

It is understandable that Community General employees may feel worry or sadness about this. That was how employees of General Hospital of Greater Syracuse felt, back in 1964, when their 79-year old hospital (see photo) merged with the then-new Community Hospital on Onondaga Hill. I worked with employees who made that transition, and I remember their comments about the sadness they felt at the time.

In Upstate, Community has a strong, able, and respectful partner. This puts us in a good position to move beyond worry and sadness to appreciation for the opportunity provided. I am also excited about Community's future with Upstate.

This week's announcement by County Executive Joanie Mahoney that Onondaga County wants to work with Upstate on a plan for Van Duyn Home & Hospital is a positive sign. It offers the promise that the 110-acre campus shared by Community and Van Duyn can be part of a larger, integrated system that provides a continuum of care. The aerial photo shows the campus. The treeline separates the Community side (left) from the Van Duyn side.

Upstate's interest in working with the county and Van Duyn is another indication that Upstate is building the new health care infrastructure that will serve our region well for the coming decades.

I am proud to be a part of that future and optimistic for Community's employees.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Community proposes a bridge agreement

Today I authorized the Community General management team to propose a bridge agreement to the 1199SEIU bargaining group. We are in collective bargaining because the current labor agreement expires on April 30.

This agreement is a bridge to the future that proposes to hold intact substantially all of Community's current collective bargaining agreement until SUNY Upstate Medical University acquires the hospital in mid-year.

The bridge agreement is important because it preserves the status quo during the several-month period leading to our hospital’s new life as part of Upstate. The agreement will help Community continue working toward our single, most important goal – securing the future of our services for the community by finalizing the agreement with Upstate.

Working together
At the last meeting of Community's board of directors, I was pleased to hear union officials say they feel management and labor have worked together effectively – for the most part – over the years. The current contract is the result of three separate, comprehensive collective bargaining agreements that have defined (and refined) our relationship since 2001. It is a well-honed agreement, and it will serve well in the remaining months of Community’s independent life.

As I have discussed elsewhere, Upstate sees value in Community and has plans to transition our employees to its organization. Upstate is working within the state system on agreements that we expect to maximize the benefit to Community's employees, our medical staff, and our community.

At the bargaining table, Community has been clear about our financial condition and our prospects as an independent community hospital. Although the 1199SEIU newsletter characterized a presentation to the bargaining committee by Pam Johnson, our CFO, as “unfortunate,” Pam told the truth about Community's prospects for the future without Upstate.

Community is fortunate to have an opportunity to become part of SUNY Upstate's health system. As reported in last week’s Post-Standard, there are a number of other hospitals currently knocking on SUNY’s door. Community and SUNY are far along in our planning process, but we are not yet done. Community's management and labor should do all we can to support the acquisition of Community by Upstate. Nothing will be gained (and potentially, much lost) if the agreement with Upstate is denied, or even unduly delayed.

The bridge agreement
The bridge agreement includes only two modifications from the current contract: one clarifies the severance pay provision, and the other terminates Community's contributions to the downstate Training and Upgrading Fund (TUF), upon expiration of the current contract.

The severance provision, which began as a practice even before 1199SEIU’s first contract with Community, was envisioned for people who lose their jobs because Community needed to adjust its workforce from time to time in the normal course of business – such as occurred during the closure of our sixth floor nursing home, due to the Berger Commission. The planned transition of Community employees to Upstate will not take place “in the normal course of business.” It will end business for Community as a stand-alone hospital, and Community will cease to exist as an employer.

The continuation of jobs has been a fundamental goal since we began planning with Upstate. When a Community employee becomes an Upstate employee, severance pay would not be appropriate because the individual’s employment will continue uninterrupted, albeit with the new employer. Although we believe this is consistent with the intent of the current contract, since it does not clearly address this scenario, we are proposing the clarification.

Upstate is expected to make hire offers to substantially all of Community employees. In some cases, however, an employee may not receive an employment offer (for example, if that employee were to fail the required drug test).

Therefore, to advance the Upstate acquisition and to assist employees who may be impacted, Community has proposed that the severance program continue but only for an employee who does not receive an offer of employment from Upstate. The benefit would provide a minimum of four weeks or one week for each year of service up to a maximum of 12 weeks (three months), plus the employee’s earned PTO (paid time off).

The second change would end Community payments to TUF in order to conserve cash to meet the liabilities Upstate will not be assuming (such as the severance costs, discussed above). Community payments to TUF will total more than $500,000 over the three-year life of the current collective bargaining agreement.

If for some reason Community's acquisition by Upstate were not to occur, the bridge agreement includes a reopener.

A required notice
Finally, Community will be legally required to send a notice to employees in the coming months under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) laws. These are federal and state requirements for an employer of significant size that require written notice to employees in advance of “plant closings.”

Because Community will cease as an employer when Upstate takes over, the WARN laws apply to us. Community expects to send a WARN letter to every employee at or near the end of March, anticipating an acquisition date on or about July 1.

Challenges & opportunities
These are truly challenging times. They are precarious times, but they are also rich with opportunity.

Community is working with Upstate in building a bridge to a better health care system for our region as we continue employment opportunities for Community's workers and prepare for the future success of our caring campus.

We appreciate the understanding and support of the Community family and the community-at-larger as we cross this bridge.