Doors close on a Harlem hospital
Allan MacOwen reports on the closing of another hospital
in New York City--and explains why workers are
protesting that they were misled.
August 26, 2010
HARLEM WORKERS and residents have been hit with yet
another blow in the ongoing assault on living standards
for working New Yorkers. The 200-bed North General
Hospital in Harlem, which filed for bankruptcy on July
2, is the latest in a series of New York City hospital
The closing means that 1,000 employees, most of them
Harlem residents--including 900 members of 1199SEIU, the
big health care workers union--have lost their jobs.
Health care services for the community will deteriorate
further, as other area hospitals are forced to bear
additional burdens--such as 36,000 more emergency room
admissions per year--with no additional resources.
The New York City political establishment--including
Gov. David Paterson; New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg; Rep. Charles Rangel; Calvin Butts, the
chairman of the board of trustees at North General and
longtime pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church; and North
General President Samuel J. Daniel--engineered the
closing behind closed doors. They then took steps to
First, employees were given only four days' notice of
the closure, even though the board of trustees decided
on the move a week earlier and the plan had obviously
been in the works for weeks before the bankruptcy. In
the week before the announcement, Daniel assured union
members that he was unaware of any plans to close the
Second, a public relations campaign downplayed the
closing and assured Harlem that its health care needs
would be addressed. The New York Beacon, a weekly
newspaper in Harlem, trumpeted the bankruptcy deal as
having "saved" the hospital. Rangel and Butts assured
the community that health care in Harlem was only
getting better--an assurance belied by the fact that
Butts stated under oath to the bankruptcy court that the
hospital "has been vital to providing the residents of
Harlem with the health services they critically
Mayor Bloomberg similarly brushed off any concerns about
increased emergency loads at other medical facilities,
saying, "These things do have a habit of sort of working
themselves out." But workers at other hospitals--which
have had to pick up the slack not just from North
General, but other recently closed city hospitals--say
the situation in emergency rooms has been chaotic and
Butts also assured North General workers that they would
be able to find jobs elsewhere, including the new
Institute for Family Health (IFH), a clinic taking over
the building. These assurances have proved similarly
hollow--the new IFH has so far employed fewer than 10 of
the 900 union members dismissed at North General.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ON JULY 26, hundreds of people packed the auditorium at
Harlem Hospital for a health care forum--among the
panelists were Rangel and IFH President Neal Calman.
The panelists gave no specifics about how health care in
Harlem would improve despite the closing. Instead, they
offered nothing but praise for Barack Obama's health
care reform law--Rangel, in particular, was eager to
take credit for pushing the legislation through the
House--and vague promises of better service.
The forum was interrupted, however, by a large group of
angry ex-employees of North General. During the
question-and-answer session, they shouted, chanted and
protested their treatment by North General, particularly
castigating Calman for reneging on promises to hire
North General workers at the new IFH clinic.
1199SEIU has filed a grievance against IFH for violating
the law by bringing in Office and Professional Employees
International Union Local 153 to represent workers
making lower wages.
North General workers are still picketing the site, and
the union is requesting that residents not use IFH until
the grievance is resolved. But workers have little
recourse--the SEIU's grievance about the IFH, even if
successful, involves no more than 100 jobs. The rest of
the North General building is being used to move nursing
home patients from Roosevelt Island.
Perhaps the most outrageous fact in all this is that a
New York state authority--the Dormitory Authority of the
State of New York (DASNY)--controlled whether North
General Hospital would stay open or not, because it
holds most of the hospital's debt.
North General's bankruptcy papers show a total debt of
$293 million and assets of $67 million. DASNY's share of
that debt is $190 million. According to Butts' affidavit
in bankruptcy court, North General hadn't obtained a
waiver from DASNY for its breach of certain parts of the
While all this was going on with North General, the
286-bed Harlem Hospital is also under increasing
pressure. According to reports, Harlem's neurology and
rehabilitation medicine departments are closing soon,
the hospital's 50-year partnership with Columbia is
ending, and doctors are being laid off in large numbers.
Indeed, the entire hospital system in New York City is
under increasing pressure to reduce its overall deficit
$762 million--which amounts to just over 5 percent
investment bank Goldman Sachs's net profits in 2009.
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