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Erie County Medical Center is eliminating 150 positions and breaking the news today to about 100 employees that they will lose their jobs as a result of the county budget crisis.

The cuts include about 10 doctors as well as a few nurses, counselors and therapists, and many more non-medical personnel.

"Those people have had their lives radically changed, and I feel horrible about it," said Michael Young, the hospital's chief executive officer. "But I have to protect the 500 patients who are here and the remaining 2,400 employees still at the hospital."

The layoffs are expected to save $6.5 million a year, Young said, although this year's figure will be less because three months already have passed and the hospital will have to pay employee fringe benefit costs.

Aside from eliminating 150 positions, the medical center's board voted Thursday to do away with 20 beds in the facility's nursing home wing and 10 beds in the psychiatric wing.

Typically, 90 percent of these beds are occupied, Young said. Their elimination is likely to cause backups in the emergency room and force many patients to wait longer for a room.

The hospital's obstetrics and gynecology clinic also might close since it lacks a high volume of patients. For the moment, however, Young said he still hopes to find doctors who can continue to run the program.

Earlier this year, the county cut its subsidy for the medical center to $19 million from $29 million. County Executive Joel A. Giambra later proposed another $3 million in reductions.

"We've been good corporate citizens," Young said. "We've done our fair share. To be honest, I don't think we can take a $3 million hit. I don't know how we would do it."

Officials are trying to live with the $10 million reduction in the hospital's subsidy by eliminating jobs and beds, he said. They also are suing the county, seeking restoration of their full subsidy and for $18 million in capital money they say the county owes the hospital.

Non-union hospital employees can be laid off immediately. Those who do belong to a union will be laid off according to their union contracts; most contracts stipulate a two-week notice.

Young said the layoffs will affect employees in almost every department -- housekeepers, secretaries, clerks, supervisors, maintenance people, accountants, electricians, security guards and supervisors.

Although 10 physicians will be asked to leave the hospital payroll, Young said they will be encouraged to continue doing work for the hospital as private practitioners or as contract employees.

Most nurses who deal directly with patient care also will remain on staff, Young said.

But some therapists, counselors, nurse's aides and others who work directly with patients are expected to lose their jobs. Other managers, supervisors and nurses will also be affected.

In previous rounds of personnel cuts, the hospital laid off 68 part-time employees and dozens of full-time workers at a cost of $1.5 million, Young said. The medical center, he explained, has to pay vacation time and unemployment insurance, among other benefits.

Those cuts were made to accommodate blue-collar employees laid off from other county departments who, under union contracts, "bumped" into hospital jobs held by workers with less seniority.

Some of the 100 hospital employees being laid off today also will be able to bump into lower-level jobs in other county departments if their union contracts permit.


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