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HOSPITAL'S UNION EMPLOYEES BRACE FOR LOSS OF JOBS

After a round of management layoffs last week, unions representing about 460 employees of Lockport Memorial Hospital are bracing for bad news of their own.

United Professional Nurses Association President James M. Huff said that union workers "are certainly very concerned about the possibility of losing their jobs. It's created a very poor work environment."

Asked if layoffs of unionized employees are next, hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Erich J. Wolters said, "I'd rather not answer that question until we have a chance to meet with leadership in the next couple of weeks."

Huff said he also is concerned about possible requests for union concessions. Another union official, Edwin J. Robisch, said the hospital's unions made a concession offer last year, including a one-year postponement of scheduled 1.5 to 2 percent pay increases.

Huff said the hospital board of directors and previous management rejected the offer. "Since then, there's been no talk of concessions," he said.

Since Jan. 4, the hospital has been managed by Intensive Resource Group, a subsidiary of Quorum Health Resources, a Tennessee company that owns or operates 240 hospitals nationwide. Wolters was assigned to Lockport by Quorum.

There are 160 members of the United Professional Nurses Association at Lockport Memorial. Other hospital employees are members of the Public Employees Federation, the Civil Service Employees Association, or the United Auto Workers.

Lockport Memorial had about 600 employees before two recent rounds of cuts. In December, the board of directors laid off the equivalent of 37 full-time employees. Although two or three vacant union jobs were eliminated, no actual union members were dismissed.

Also, hospital President and CEO Michael J. Vlosky resigned last month.

On Wednesday, nine more non-union employees were shown the door, including Chief Operating Officer Thomas A. Sy.

"As far as further management interventions, those will be in the form of recommendations to the board in late February," Wolters said.

Lockport Memorial claimed losses of more than $3 million in 1998.

Wolters said Wednesday's job cuts, which included the elimination of a vacant job from the budget, will save about $500,000 this year.

But he said there is no chance the hospital will be back in the black by the time IRG's six-month contract expires. The contract can be renewed.

Wolters said hospital management wants to renegotiate a mortgage the city holds on the facility and would welcome a meeting with the City Council.

City officials are trying to schedule such a meeting, which would presumably be held behind closed doors because of it involves details of Lockport Memorial's financial situation.

Wolters also said the hospital is awaiting a $475,000 loan from the state Dormitory Authority.

Wolters said the short-term goal is to "stabilize" Lockport Memorial. He said all departments and services are being scrutinized, and decisions about their future will be made "primarily on a financial basis."

But he said residents should not assume that any particular department or outside facility is slated for closure. He said that includes Reflections, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, whose director was among those laid off Wednesday.

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