Residents OK cancer center in phone poll

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

A new poll commissioned by the Yale-New Haven Hospital has found near-unanimous community support for its proposed cancer center, which will be the largest and most comprehensive cancer center in the Northeast upon its completion in 2008.

The New Haven City Plan Committee granted preliminary approval last Wednesday to prepare the construction site. The new center will consolidate cancer resources already available at Yale, offering more streamlined care to critically ill patients. The poll reported that 97 percent of 400 randomly selected New Haven and New Haven-area residents voiced their support for the center.

But some Yale-New Haven employees have reported calls from another phone survey by Service Employees International Union District 1199, hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said.

Petrini said many questions were phrased in a way to incite criticism of the hospital, such as, ‘Do you believe it is right for working employees to have to put children on welfare because they do not earn enough?’

“We expect to continue to run into opposition like we did early in the project, much of which will come from the SEIU as part of their organization attempts at Yale-New Haven Hospital,” Petrini said.

District 1199 spokesman Bill Meyerson confirmed that the SEIU is conducting a survey, but said the results are not yet available. He added that the SEIU supports the cancer center.

However, the center has already met with opposition from the SEIU, which represents approximately 150 dietary workers at the hospital. Hospital relations with the SEIU have been strained following a contract dispute last year, and accusations of both union misconduct and aggressive hospital debt-collection practices have resulted in many hospital policy changes.

In addition, Community Organized for Responsible Development, or CORD, a newly established community group staffed with SEIU employees, has voiced concern over the availability of jobs at the new center.

“The hospital says they’re going to provide jobs, and we in CORD want to make sure that– neighborhood residents get first shot at those jobs, and that job training be available,” Meyerson said.

Meyerson said CORD representatives have asked to meet with the hospital to negotiate these issues. Petrini said the hospital is not opposed to meeting with the group.

“We have worked well with community groups,” Petrini said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not interested in hearing from a wide constituency of groups– but we’re concentrating on working with community groups– like those in the Hill community. This is our neighborhood.”

Community concerns have also focused on upholding the Community Benefits Agreement passed by the New Haven Board of Aldermen in July. The resolution states that businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies must ensure that projects include certain community benefits that will increase the economic viability of New Haven.

Petrini said he expects the city to hold the hospital building project to these guidelines, despite the hospital’s already-substantial contributions to the community, including funding a pediatric dentistry center to serve children without commercial insurance.

“We expect that we’ll be bound by this resolution, which is kind of ironic because we’ve been part of the community for 178 years,” Petrini said. “We have a record we’re going to stand by. We’re meeting with the community right now to assess what their needs are.”

The next step in the building project is to secure the approval of the Yale-New Haven Hospital board of trustees, which should be decided this fall. In the spring, the hospital will ask for approval of the entire cancer center from both the New Haven Board of Alderman and the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access.

Demolition of the existing Grace Building — a 60-year-old former residence hall for nurses, the site of which will be the location of the new cancer center — is slated to begin next summer, as soon as the plan is approved in its entirety.

Comments