The union representing nurses at Meadowlands Hospital and Medical Center in Secaucus held a vigil outside the hospital Wednesday night to protest what they said were violations of employee rights by the hospital’s new owners.
About 50 nurses and other union members carried glow sticks as they stood in the freezing cold on a public sidewalk across from the hospital in an action that was “not intended to disrupt hospital operations nor include picketing,” according to an announcement by the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents 350 nurses at the facility.
No current hospital employees participated for fear of retaliation, said the union’s president, Ann Twomey. Most participants were union members who work at other hospitals, and some were former employees of Meadowlands Hospital and Medical Center who had been laid off over the past year.
“This is part of an ongoing and undeserved union grievance campaign well documented as untrue,” said William J. Maer, a spokesman for MHA, the private investment group that owns the hospital. “Meadowlands Hospital continues to have high patient satisfaction scores and has been commended by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey for having the lowest readmission rate of any hospital in the area.”
The union is fighting hospital ownership on a number of fronts. It has called for the state Department of Health to appoint a manager to oversee the hospital and demanded a federal injunction against the hospital’s owners for what it claimed were illegal dismissals of employees and retaliation against union members.
A spokeswoman for the National Labor Relations Board, Nancy Cleeland, said Wednesday that it “has not sought an injunction based on the information given to date.” The state health department previously rejected the call for a monitor, noting that it had many ways to “oversee compliance and monitor care provided at” the hospital.
Union members also have nine cases against the hospital pending with the labor board, Cleeland said.
The union has asked the federal Department of Labor to investigate what it contends are unlawful changes to the health insurance plan, said a union spokeswoman, Jeanne Otersen. The union also has asked the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to investigate the potential non-payment of employee insurance premiums, Otersen said.
“The hospital has been successful in defeating almost every one of the charges that are filed,” Maer, the MHA spokesman, said Wednesday.
MHA bought the 230-bed hospital for $15 million in December 2010 and appeared to dramatically reverse its financial losses in 2011, allowing investors to recoup $8.4 million. But those figures, included in a preliminary financial report, were never submitted in final, or audited, form to the state Department of Health.
Failure to file the report resulted in the assessment of a $6,000 fine by the health department last month. The fine has been neither paid nor appealed, and on Wednesday the department told the hospital that it would reduce Medicaid reimbursements by an equivalent amount if payment is not received immediately.
February 20, 2013
BY LINDY WASHBURN