New London - The letter Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released Thursday critical of recent decisions resulting in layoffs and program cuts at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital grew out of a meeting Sept. 25 between Malloy and representatives of the three AFT unions at L+M.
The meeting took place during the AFL-CIO convention at Foxwoods Resort Casino, just before Malloy addressed the gathering, Matt O'Connor, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said Friday. Malloy met with the presidents of the nurses, technicians and health care workers unions and rank-and-file members, and heard their concerns about the three rounds of layoffs in the past year, jobs transferred to nonunionized hospital affiliates, and the possible outsourcing of dining and housekeeping services, among other issues, O'Connor said.
"It was a very open an frank discussion, and he asked a lot of questions," O'Connor said.
The letter to L+M President Bruce Cummings prompted a sharp response from Cummings. The hospital president blamed cuts in state funding to hospitals proposed by the Malloy administration and approved by the legislature for the layoffs and program cuts, and accused the governor of basing his assertions on "false and misleading claims from union leaders."
On Friday, hospital spokesman Mike O'Farrell said the hospital had little to add to the response, except that it would provide the information the governor asked for in his letter. Malloy asked for a response and an explanation for the concerns he raised in the letter.
"We're well aware of the cuts impacting us this year, and they are real," O'Farrell said, referring to Cummings' statement that Malloy's budget had cut $18 million from L+M over two years. "L+M and other hospitals around the state are faced with the same challenges, and the bulk of those are coming from Hartford."
Federal cuts in Medicare reimbursements are also affecting hospitals, he added.
Andrew Doba, spokesman for Malloy, took issue with Cummings' response to the letter, in particular the statement that "Gov. Malloy cut funding to Connecticut hospitals by $550 million." Doba called the statement "absolutely incorrect."
"He's talking about a predicted increase," Doba said. Hospitals received $1.7 billion in state funding last year and are slated to receive the same amount in the current fiscal year, he said, adding, "Hospital funding from the state has gone up 245 percent over the last 10 years."
Malloy was prompted to write the letter by the heartfelt concerns he heard from the union members, Doba said. "His mother is a nurse, so this is not an abstraction for him," he said of Malloy. "This should come as a surprise to no one."
Michele Sharp, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association, declined to comment on Malloy's remarks.
Stephanie Johnson, president of the local that represents technicians and licensed practical nurses, said she is gratified that the governor listened to the union's concerns about "troubling policy decisions and labor practices which we're ultimately concerned could negatively impact patient care."
The meeting with the governor came as contract negotiations between her union and the registered nurses union were just beginning, and a National Labor Relations Board complaint against the hospital is pending. A hearing on the complaint scheduled for Monday has been postponed.
O'Connor said the governor's letter "raises the profile" of the "I Am L+M" campaign recently begun by the union to bring public attention to its concerns. In addition to meeting with Malloy, the union has also approached members of L+M's board of directors, he said.
He was also critical of Cummings' response to Malloy, saying that he "inferred that the issues we raised (with the governor) weren't real issues, that we were being inflammatory and all but calling our leaders and members liars." The decisions the union is questioning, he said, "predate the state budget."
In his letter, Malloy referred to a letter L+M sent to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio in July asking for use of the parking lot at Ocean Beach Park for replacement workers if there is a strike at the hospital. Both Malloy and O'Connor said the letter was premature and runs contrary to efforts to negotiate a contract before the November expiration. O'Farrell, the hospital spokesman, said the hospital is required by the state Department of Public Health to have strike plans in place, even if it does not anticipate needing them.
"Our hope is that it doesn't get to that point," he said.
O'Farrell reiterated the hospital's position that L+M is making painful but necessary decisions to keep itself financially healthy in an increasingly difficult environment, and that both L+M and the Connecticut Hospital Association have the same interpretation of the impact of the state budget on hospital operations.
"Our hope is that our staff represented by unions will encourage the union leadership to work with management instead of against it, to prevent the Malloy administration from imposing even more cuts," O'Farrell said. "This is a time we need to find creative ways to avoid more cuts."