By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- Speakers at a meeting of a coalition opposed to Massena Memorial Hospital shifting to a private non-profit organization painted a vastly different picture of the medical facility’s future at a Monday night meeting in Massena.
Pension Costs May Fall
Sean Egan, director of member benefits and community relations for CSEA, the union that represents MMH workers, said MMH CEO Charles Fahd’s statements that contributions to the state pensions system will rise exponentially is false.
“The costs of pensions are going to go down,” Egan said. He said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is expected to announce in the coming months that employer contributions will begin to fall as a result of the economy rebounding since the 2008 collapse.
Also, he noted recent overhauls of the system have employees paying a 9 percent contribution rather than 3 percent and they will have to pay beyond their 10-year mark, the point at which employee kick-ins once stopped.
“The pension is at its peak now … it’s going to start going further and further down,” according to Egan.
Fahd has stated publicly that retirement contributions have risen exponentially over the last decade and they are expected to keep going up. The hospital must pay $4.4 million into the state fund. He anticipates that will rise to $4.8 million in December 2014.
Obamacare a ‘Good Thing’
Gary Storrs, a labor economist with AFSC (CSEA’s parent union), believes that contrary to Fahd’s statements, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will slash yearly accumulations of bad debt, which arises from poor insurance coverage or the uninsured who can’t afford their hospital bills.
Since the act will have more people covered under better insurance, Storrs hypothesized, there will be a higher number of paying customers.
“That should solve [the bad debt] problem,” Storrs said.
Fahd has previously claimed projected losses include a $10.5 million reduction in Medicare reimbursements stemming from the Affordable Care Act, but Edward “Bud” Mulchy, a CSEA contract negotiator said that will take 10 years.
“The hospital is presenting a horror story about the Affordable Care Act … implying all of the costs and none of the benefits … will be realized,” according to Storrs.
He added that he believes the hospital’s financial state is just fine, that contrary to MMH officials’ statements it isn’t a failing institution. He cited year-end surpluses in two out of the last four years and its “significant fund balance” of roughly $15 million.
MMH Employee React
Three hospital employees took time to discuss their concerns about MMH going private with North Country This Week and they believe if it happens, the quality of healthcare at the facility will dramatically go down.
They believe essential services such as the dialysis center could face the chopping block because they don’t make enough money.
“Our reimbursement rate isn’t high on that,” MMH senior account clerk Shaylyn Frederick said.
“I’m afraid of what the public … is going to lose if we go private – anything that’s not a money-maker could go,” MMH histologist Jodi White said.
Egan echoed her concerns when he spoke.
“If it goes private, do you think it’s going to keep the services that don’t make any money?” Egan stated. “We believe it is in the community’s best interest to keep it as it is … people may have to travel distances to get a particular service (in the event of privatization).”
Frederick, a 26-year MMH veteran is worried about losing her full state retirement package, which will only remain available to her and the rest of the MMH staff if the hospital stays public.
“What we have would still be there, but it would be a big decrease,” she said, adding that the 30-year mark is when it swells to the point it is possible to live off.
“A good portion of us don’t have 30 years … probably 75 percent,” she said.
Frederick theorized that many employees, especially those close to the 30-year mark, would pull up stakes and leave their jobs if the hospital went private.
Jason Garcia, a medical imaging technician who specializes in CAT scans, took the microphone and said he feels a main problem is lack of communication between upper management and the employees on the front lines.
“Upper management, they’re not listening to us employees on the floor, they’re not listening to middle management,” Garcia stated, adding that he feels that most employees work in a climate where they fear for their jobs if they don’t get in line with MMH heads.
“[Middle management] is afraid if they come up with ways to keep the hospital public ... they’ll be out of a job,” he stated. “I guarantee when I get back (from time off) I’ll be called into human resources behind closed doors.”
Egan noted that employees and union reps have devised ways to save the hospital $5 million annually, but MMH officials won’t take their suggestions. He said this includes employees being willing to switch to a cheaper health insurance plan, which on its own would save $850,000 to $1.6 million per year.
The coalition’s next move is to conduct what they are calling “neighbor-to-neighbor” walks on August 10, where they plan on going door-to-door and talking with community members about the MMH dilemma.