City's Latest Moves Fuel NCB Fight
By HANNAN ADELY
Attempts by the Giuliani administration to remove public hospital union officials from their on-site offices and to house the homeless at North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB) have exacerbated the controversy surrounding the alleged plans to close the facility.
When the city recently revealed that it was planning to house the homeless at NCB and at Harlem Hospital, elected officials were quick to denounce the action. "This is not only bad policy in terms of dealing with the problems of our homeless population, but it lends credence to reports that the city would like to close NCB," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senator Eric T. Schneiderman in a joint press release.
At a rally on Aug. 18 at Harlem Hospital and in letters and press releases, politicians and hospital workers urged the New York State Department of Health and the city to block the plan.
"We're not against the homeless; we take care of them every day," said James Butler, president of Local 420, the union representing most workers at the city's public hospitals, in a telephone interview. "But there's health and safety factors there."
Butler argued that housing the homeless in a hospital could leave them susceptible to possible exposure to infection and illness. And, Butler asked, "Who's going to examine the homeless and see if they're in good condition to go into the hospital?"
According to a press release from Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the mayor's office directed the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), which administers the city's public hospitals, to obtain a waiver from New York State to house the homeless in NCB and Harlem Hospital. And although the waiver has not yet been granted, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has already begun converting the former rehabilitation ward at NCB into a homeless shelter, having brought in bunk beds and cribs, Butler said.
Nina Johnson, assistant director of public relations for the North Bronx Healthcare Network, which consists of NCB and Jacobi Hospital in the east Bronx, said, "We were asked by the mayor's office, if we had available space, would we be willing to house the homeless if necessary." HHC responded that there was sufficient space and Johnson confirmed that NYCHA has prepared it for the potential arrival of the homeless. "As of yet, we have not had to house anyone," Johnson stressed.
Local 420 is also objecting to the city closing its on-site offices. On Aug. 13, union heads walked into their offices and found notices indicating that the city intended to close the offices. According to Butler, the notice asked for the office keys for each site to be returned.
"This is a form of union-busting. Since he wasn't able to privatize he's trying to get us in another way," said Doris Cross, an assistant to Butler, referring to the city's attempt to privatize Coney Island Hospital, a public hospital in Queens.
Butler said the city already tried unsuccessfully to close the offices earlier this year. "This is coming from Giuliani himself who has a bone to pick with us because we don't say yes to everything," he said. This time, union staff were given three days to clear out, but a judge granted the union an extended stay. A Sept. 13 court appearance will determine if the union will be able to keep its on-site office space.
No one at the city's Office of Labor Relations would comment for this story, and the mayor's press office did not return telephone calls.
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