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Effort to Block further Dialysis Privatization Hits Fever Pitch

July 16, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco

Opponents hoping to stop the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) from completing the outsourcing of the system’s dialysis services are stepping up their efforts this week ahead of an important public meeting on Thursday, July 19.

The HHC Board of Directors meeting at 125 Worth Street will be an opportunity for opponents to manifest their opposition to a proposal that seeks to privatize dialysis services at nine more public hospitals located around the city. Two hospitals in the HHC system – Elmhurst and Bellvue hospitals – have already seen their public dialysis programs privatized.

“There have been some problems at those hospitals,” said Judy Wessler, director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System (CPHS). “Inpatients are sometimes kept in a hospital bed awaiting Medicaid approval for outpatient dialysis because for-profit companies won’t provide care without insurance. This is not good care for people and is more costly for the public system.”

CPHS is spearheading the opposition to the HHC privatization plan, along with DC 37, The New York State Nurses Association, Coalition for Asian-American Children and Families, and a growing list of other organizations.

Beyond suspect savings, CPHS and its supporters maintain that the profit motive driving private companies is actually detrimental to overall patient care. Opponents of the privatization plan have found that for-profit companies offer shorter treatments in order to maximize the number of dialysis patients they can treat, pay staff less and employ fewer personnel and less highly trained workers.

But HHC has no complaints about the way privatized dialysis treatment has been administered at Elmhurst Hospital, insisting instead that after six years, “The quality of services has been excellent.”

HHC maintains that outsourcing its dialysis treatment is necessary to help close a reported $1 billion budget gap. The group is hoping the move will also save the system over $150 million over the next nine years as well as expand capacity by about 35 percent in the short term. On July 26, HHC’s Board of Directors is expected to vote on a contract that will realize the privatization plan if approved.

Before that happens, CPHS and its supporters are instead urging decision makers to seek alternatives to privatization that do not threaten either workers or quality of care.

HHC spokesperson Ana Marengo insists that outsourcing dialysis treatment at the city’s public hospitals will not trigger any layoffs.

“No one is going to lose their jobs over this,” Marengo said.  “We are protecting all the jobs. All the people involved in providing the service now will remain employed by HHC.”

Privatization may not incur layoffs, but it will cause the redeployment of current staffers – and no one is exactly sure where everyone could end up.

“We expect most staff would remain with their facility,” Marengo said. “The furthest they would go is within their hospital network, which is in keeping with all the labor contracts.”

Atlantic Dialysis Management Services, the private outfit tapped to take offer dialysis treatment for the rest of the nine public hospitals in the HHC system, stands to gain tremendously if the contract is approved on July 26.

“All of their staff may not be laid off, but they’ll be moved,” Wessler said. “The staffing will come from this private, for-profit corporation.”

In addition to urging supporters to attend the July 19 meeting on Worth Street, CPHS is also trying to garner support from elected officials and exploring the possibility of a lawsuit aimed at preventing further privatization of dialysis services at HHC hospitals. According to Wessler, there are no plans for a mass demonstration at this time. “But,” she said, “that doesn’t mean we won’t do it.”

The HHC Board of Directors Meeting – Medical and Professional Affairs – will take place in Room 532 at 125 Worth Street on July 19. Start time is 10 a.m.

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