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DC37 fights dialysis privatization

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 9/21/2012, 3:12 p.m.
Temporary justice for DC37 and other unions against city

New York City is looking to privatize the city's dialysis centers, and the largest public employee union in the five boroughs isn't happy about it.

The city's Health and Hospitals Corp. (HHC) recently announced their desire to privatize nine inpatient and outpatient dialysis centers in New York City. According to their statistics, privatization could save the city $178.5 million over a nine-year period.

In a series of documents sent to the AmNews, DC37 illustrated that these actions would lead to private companies hiring fewer union employees and switching over to non-unionized, less-skilled personnel, including nurses and technicians, and paying them lower wages. The union said it would also cut staff hours by 20 percent, from 1.67 hours per patient day to 1.33 hours.

According to DC37, HHC facilities like Harlem Hospital, Kings County Hospital and Bellevue would be greatly impacted by the change because patients at public hospitals in the city are less likely to be insured and have more complications. In a letter addressed to the HHC board, signed by people like Rep. Charlie Rangel and organizations including DC37 and Doctors Council SEIU and many other health advocacy groups and unions, the case against privatization was made clear.

"Although sympathetic and understanding of the HHC's financial difficulties, we believe that there are better ways for HHC to provide care for New Yorkers without having to suffer major financial losses," read the letter. "HHC should begin a consultation process with patients, advocacy organizations and unions to come up with alternatives that will keep dialysis clinics and other direct patient care services public and maintain high-quality care for all of New York."

Among the reasons listed in the letter against HHC's plan was the belief that private dialysis centers tend to provide shorter treatments so they can maximize the number of patients treated. Shorter treatment duration is associated with higher death rates and a focus on profits diminishes quality care, according to the letter.

In a counter proposal, DC37 suggested a few modifications to the HHC plan, including eliminating private vendor patient care technicians and putting in experienced HHC hemodialysis patient care technicians. Almost everything else, including staff to dialysis machine ratio, would remain the same, with DC37 pointing out that pension costs should be lower after the passage of Tier 6 pension changes.