Feb 17, 2014 — Carthage Area Hospital is laying off 73 workers, part of its second restructuring in just the past few months. Forty-one of those were members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.
Kathy Tucker is vice-president of the local SEIU chapter. The union represents employees like housekeepers, nurses' aides and phlebotomists, some of the many positions represented in the layoffs. Tucker said it's a tough time for healthcare workers.
"E.J. Noble in Gouverneur – we've seen some loss of employment over there, not on as broad a spectrum as we did at Carthage," she said. "But you know, all of the North Country facilities, probably with the exception of one or two, have laid off some number of workers."
Hospitals around the country are all under the same pressures: a turn toward outpatient and preventive care, low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and increasing regulations.
The trend is likely to continue in this region, as the state-created North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission works to adapt area facilities to the new realities of the industry.
"It's about consolidating and working with other facilities, and eliminating waste. It's not pleasant, but it is what's happening," Tucker said.
The hospital did not respond to interview requests, but spokeswoman Natalie Burnham said in an email that the hospital's not changing the services it offers. She said it's responding to a mismatch between the low number of inpatient cases and an excess number of beds and staff available to serve them. And Burnham said all hospitals are experiencing tighter operating margins.
Tucker says Carthage Area Hospital's laid-off workers are being given priority consideration for a handful of new jobs, based largely on seniority. She wasn't sure of the exact number.
The union is also asking the hospital to take some measures to soften the blow of the job losses.
"Some things to make it easier for the people who have been laid off –additional training, some monetary benefits in the contract that we've asked the employer to give to people earlier than they normally would," Tucker said.
The layoffs have sparked some anxiety among the hospital's remaining workforce, Tucker added. She said the administration is meeting with employees to try to allay fears.