Saturday, August 23, 2008

Muhlenberg - Westfield Leader - Closing hikes UC unemployment

Westfield Leader, 8/13/2008

Muhlenberg Closing Adds
To Unemployment Hike in Union County

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

AREA – As of August 6, 300 Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center employees did not have jobs. This comes at a time when Union County’s unemployment rate rose to 5.6 percent in June (latest available), 1.1 percent higher than the average rate for 2007. Comparing it to the national and state average for June, Union County has slightly more out-of-work employees.

Tom Casey, vice president of public relations for Solaris Health Systems, said to The Westfield Leader July 31, “We found positions for roughly 650 employees mainly at JFK Medical.” Some, he said, have taken jobs at Solaris’ nursing facilities and other health service centers in Middlesex County.

He said 450 employees had resigned prior to the letter Nancy Fiamingo, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Muhlenberg, submitted to workers July 29, notifying them of the date the hospital would close. Of those who resigned, some took jobs at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth as mental health and psychology professionals, some went on to jobs elsewhere, and some retired. John Oatis, Fanwood volunteer rescue squad president, told The Leader that most of the doctors have moved from Muhlenberg.

Last Thursday, approximately 15 patients remained at Muhlenberg, and the hospital planned to move them the following day, according to Barbara Germinder, a volunteer at the medical center. Thursday was the last day for all volunteers. She said she did not have another volunteer post lined up yet but planned to find a position after the end of the year, once the holidays pass. The hospital halls were virtually empty, no one was sitting in the waiting room on the third floor, and three nurses manned the nursing station on the third floor last Thursday afternoon.

Most employees of the Plainfield medical center come from Union, Somerset and Middlesex counties, according to Mr. Casey. He did not have information about the number of displaced employees from each town or city. Of the people unemployed due to the closing of Muhlenberg are a mix of professional staff, including secretaries, clerks, clinical staff and service workers, such as food service and housekeeping. About five employees of Muhlenberg were asked to comment, last Thursday, on their career plan once the hospital closes, but no one wished to talk to the press. Administration declined to speak to the press as well.

A severance package was offered to those who did not take a job in the Solaris health system. Mr. Casey would not disclose specific details of the package but said the severance is in correlation with their position’s rate of pay and length of service to Muhlenberg. In compliance with state law, employees and their eligible dependents are entitled to receive medical coverage through COBRA, paid by the beneficiary. Mr. Casey did not have cost information. According to the state’s Division of Pension and Benefits website, the COBRA monthly payment is the “full group rate plus a 2 percent administration fee.”

Of the 650 people who stayed with Solaris, 200 to 250 employees will be on-site at Muhlenberg’s satellite emergency department to provide services. Diagnostic imaging, lab employees, dialysis, home care and medical records are also on the premises. The school of nursing adjacent to the hospital is unchanged at 300-plus students per year, according to Mr. Casey. The students will continue to attend classroom lectures and rotate through other acute-care facilities, including JFK and Overlook hospitals.

About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.