Union enlists allies in hospital struggle
GREENFIELD — Late last Thursday, as a cool breeze swept along High Street in Greenfield, a large group started to gather across the street from the hospital to rally support for what they consider a county gem — their community hospital.
Franklin County residents stood beside town and regional leaders who stood beside nurses and union leaders, and by the time everyone had crossed the street to stand on the sidewalk in front of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, about 100 had gathered.
“We will continue to be here and fight for our community hospital,” one woman yelled into the crowd, which responded with applause and cheers.
Shortly after 6 p.m., as ralliers dispersed for ice cream on the corner of High and Beacon streets, BFMC President Chuck Gijanto insisted that the hospital is not “shipping people off to Springfield” and actually plans to increase and improve services the hospital provides, contrary to ralliers’ cries.
At the rally sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Community Health Care Initiative, a group formed by concerned citizens of Franklin County, speakers talked about how “person after person” has told their story of having to commute to Springfield for care that used to be provided at their local community hospital.
Ralliers complained about the high salaries hospital executives, including Gijanto, make each year.
They worried about the layoff of nurses over the past several months and how that will affect the care people receive at the local hospital.
“They are sucking the life out of this community,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the MNA. “The hospital has been taking services away from here over the years and shuffling them to Springfield. The hospital has lost its urology and pediatrics and we keep losing. We’re concerned.” Schildmeier said it is time for the hospital to listen to its community.
Gijanto responded in an interview after the rally by saying that there aren’t as many people being sent to the Springfield hospital as people think. He said there are some surgeries and follow-up appointments that people are sent to Springfield for, but that they’ve always had to go there for them.
He said that the salaries paid to hospital administrators are competitive and if people want Baystate Franklin Medical Center to continue to improve, it has to remain competitive. “People complain about the big Baystate Health corporation, but if it wasn’t for Baystate, they would have lost their community hospital a long time ago,” said Gijanto.
State Rep. Paul Mark said at the rally that he would continue to fight alongside his constituents. He said he will not see BMFC taken away in the name of corporate greed.
“What better place than at the hospital to say I’m sick of it,” said Mark. “We’ll fight one day more than they will. I stand ready to stand with you.”
Rep. Denise Andrews followed Mark by saying that BFMC is an excellent hospital that provides excellent, accessible, affordable care, and she will not stand by and watch BFMC transfer services to a hospital 40 miles away, especially when people in Franklin County can’t afford to make frequent long trips.
Rallier Dave Cohen said he has requested numbers from the state concerning how many people are being sent to Springfield for procedures. He said he hasn’t heard anything yet.
“We also have to worry about our health care if the hospital is going to mistreat its employees,” said Cohen, referring to negotiations between nurses and the hospital.
“I believe there have been layoffs in retaliation for what the nurses want or don’t want,” he said.
And while Gijanto has said several times in the past couple of weeks that the hospital wants to build an office building on the former Holy Trinity School property to attract doctors and keep them in Greenfield, Cohen said he doesn’t believe that is necessary. He said he doesn’t believe the hospital plans to recruit more doctors, because if it did, it would be doing so now.
Gijanto said BFMC needs updated facilities and more space to recruit doctors in such a competitive environment.
“I’ve had a great deal of concern about this,” said Patti Williams, a member of the CHCI. “I want to see our hospital maintain services, stop shipping people to Springfield and provide good health care.” Williams said she is happy that Gijanto and Baystate Health plan to enhance services by building a medical office building and renovating the hospital’s operating rooms, but she plans to keep a close eye until those promises are met.
Gijanto said they will be met, but it will take time.
“People keep asking where their community hospital went to,” said Gijanto. “We’re still here!” In recent weeks, a resolution, sponsored by the MNA and area residents, was signed by 10 towns (Buckland, Colrain, Deerfield, Erving, Heath, Hawley, Leyden, Montague, Shelburne and Whately) urging the hospital to keep its local services intact. That resolution was sent to Gijanto and Baystate Health system CEO Mark Tolosky.