Union Wants Answers On Sleep Center Deal

Thomas MacMillan PhotoWarning of “hospital monopolies,” a Yale union is asking the state to investigate Yale New-Haven Hospital’s plans to take over a recently shuttered sleep center.

UNITE HERE Local 34, one of the two main university unions, is calling for a public hearing on the fate of a sleep center that Gaylord Hospital had been running in North Haven.

Gaylord has petitioned the state for permission to shut down the center. Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) has struck a deal to buy the facility.

Gaylord needs permission from the state Office of Health Care Access (OHCA) to shut down the facility. UNITE HERE last week filed a formal request with OHCA seeking the hearing in order to question the transaction.

William Gerrish, spokesman for OHCA, said the request for a hearing has been granted. A date has not yet been set, he said.

In a letter to OHCA, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington (pictured) said the alleged “termination” of the Gaylord facility is part of a “complex three-way transaction” among Gaylord, YNHH, and Yale University.

The real story, according to Kennington, goes like this: Yale University shut down a sleep center it was running in New Haven and laid 11 people off. Yale-New Haven Hospital then bought up a sleep center in North Haven, and moved doctors and patients to the new facility, which Kennington is concerned may charge higher prices, be harder for patients to get to, and pay workers less. Click here to read her letter.

In the letter, Kennington calls the Gaylord closure “fictitious,” since “the hospital’s facility isn’t closing.”

Not so, said Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini. It’s two distinct transactions, he said: Yale University closed its facility independently of YNHH’s deal to buy Gaylord’s center.

The difference in opinion mirrors a broader debate over Connecticut’s fast-changing health care landscape, in which some institutions find they can no longer pay the bills, and YNHH is buying up more facilities, including the old Hospital of St. Raphael. (That 2012 transaction made it one of the country’s largest hospitals.)  Recently, YNHH, a not-for-profit, moved to join forces with a large hospital management company that’s looking to buy four hospitals in Connecticut and convert them to for-profit institutions.

Critics have warned that such expansion can lead to higher fees and “segregation” of care between private payers and publicly supported patients. YNHH has argued that hospital acquisitions can lead to greater efficiencies that lead to better health care at a time when some older institutions are having trouble surviving.

That broader debate was the focus of a lively recent panel discussion in New Haven. The fate of the sleep center emerged at that event as a central front in the debate.

Old Boss Gets New Job

The union said that the new YNHH sleep center, which is in North Haven, is simply taking all the old Yale University sleep center doctors and managers to a new facility that may charge higher prices, be harder for patients to get to, and pay workers less.

Petrini said the new YNHH sleep center hired only the manager from the Yale University sleep center. While he doesn’t know if fees will increase, Petrini said, he sees no reason why they should.

The end of the Gaylord sleep center requires the filing of a certificate of need with OHCA. UNITE HERE"s hearing request involves that filing. UNITE HERE doesn’t have legal leverage to block Yale-New Haven from buying the center; the OHCA certificate of need request from Gaylord gave the union a way to seek to intercede.

Elizabeth Lowe, a UNITE HERE Local 34 member who worked for eight years as a day tech at the Yale sleep center, said she was laid off last July. She was told it was a financial decision, she said, when the sleep center laid off 11 workers from Local 34.

Later, she found out YNHH is opening a new sleep center in North Haven, with her former boss as the manager.

“These are two separate facilities,” Petrini countered. Yale made a decision to close its sleep center, which was not acquired by YNHH. When Gaylord was closing its center, YNHH agreed to buy it.

“There’s no connection,” Petrini said. “Yale made a decision to close down. Gaylord also made a decision to close down.”

YNHH hired the Yale sleep center manager some time after the Yale center closed down, Petrini said. The manager simply applied for the job, he said.

Antonio Lopes, a Local 34 vice president, called the sleep center openings and closings a “shell game” that will result in higher costs for patients. He said legal “loopholes” need to be close to prevent the deals that YNHH is making.

Lowe said it may be harder for New Haven patients to get to the North Haven center, and workers there will be paid less and non-unionized.. She said she’s also concerned that patients at the new North Haven sleep center will be subject to “provider based billing,” which can require an extra co-pay. “That will eliminate the ability for lots of these people to get care.”

Petrini said he doesn’t know if patients will pay more at the North Haven sleep center, but assumes that there will be no change, since Gaylord was operating the center as a “provider-based” facility.

Lopes and Lowe said they’re just looking for “transparency,” for a public discussion of how the patients will be affected by the new YNHH sleep center in North Haven.

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posted by: accountability on April 15, 2014  4:45pm

Health care reform is supposed to save money by having patients get care in the most appropriate setting.

But when hospitals buy up doctor practices, regulators let them bill for services as if they actually take place in the hospital.

So even if we help people get insurance so they can see doctors instead of waiting and winding up in the ER, costs still go up.

It’s nuts.

posted by: robn on April 15, 2014  4:48pm

Why would a unionized workforce at this healthcare facility keep costs down? Since they, by definition, aggressively bargain for higher wages and benefits, wouldn’t the opposite occur?

posted by: NHInsider on April 15, 2014  7:34pm

The takeover of all private and public healthcare offices/facilities by Yale needs to be stopped. Yale is a monopoly that is taking away patient choice. Currently they are financially strained and are cutting back on community services, staffing and the quality of care is deteriorating.

posted by: Kris on April 15, 2014  8:04pm

***News flash***. Getting into New Haven is a nightmare for patients.

Laurie, I have no idea why you would think patients would have such a hard time getting to north haven vs new haven. If you haven’t noticed over the years many doctors have opened satellite offices in the burbs because many patients prefer NOT to have to come to New Haven for care. Let’s not continue to blame YNHH for taking over St Rays and these other practices, it is not their fault these places didn’t have a CEO to keep them from going broke!  Let’s be honest, the union is mad because union employees are being laid off and non union YNHH is doing well. All I can say is that it was well worth my many volunteer hours to fight to keep the union out of YNHH. We are so much better off…..no layoffs here and we keep growing and growing.

posted by: wendy1 on April 16, 2014  9:16am

Yale Corp. hates unions.  The big “non-profit” always makes a profit in the millions.  And while all this happens, service is deteriorating.  All of YNHH is understaffed and stressed.  Expect accidents to happen.

posted by: Lisa on April 16, 2014  3:21pm

Of everything I read in the article, the one things that worries me is this:

“Recently, YNHH, a not-for-profit, moved to join forces with a large hospital management company that’s looking to buy four hospitals in Connecticut and convert them to for-profit institutions.”

Turning the hospital into a For-Profit scares the heck out of me.  Now that will drive up costs!