Hospital investments plan stirs discontent

Yale-New Haven Hospital announced a new community investments program last week to accompany the proposed 14-story cancer center, but some aldermen and local activists say they are still not satisfied with the plan.

The hospital announced the program this past Friday, the same day it submitted formal plans for the cancer center to New Haven’s Board of Aldermen. The proposal includes a building with retail, office and garage space and a new office and laboratory building, bringing the project’s total cost to $530 million.

As part of the community benefits, the hospital will fund new housing development, increase paid internships and college scholarships for city students, organize construction apprenticeships for New Haven residents, help fund existing youth programs, and provide $40,000 of additional day care for low income families in the Hill neighborhood.

District 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James, who represents the Hill neighborhood where the center will be constructed, said the current investments proposal is insufficient because the hospital did not collaborate with community leaders in its formulation.

Though the proposal includes benefits suggested by Community Organized for Responsible Development, a local alliance with ties to a union at odds with Yale-New Haven, the group’s leaders said the hospital has not fully compromised with city residents. CORD organizer Rev. Scott Marks said the hospital has refused to negotiate CORD’s benefits agreement, which is based on a poll of about 800 Hill residents.

“The hospital has selected only a small group to represent community interests,” Marks said. “Its decisions do not give a voice to the broadest possible base of the community.”

Marks said the hospital’s investments program ignores many specific concerns raised by CORD relating to issues such as the environment and hospital worker unionization.

But hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said CORD is alone in pushing for an alternate method of employee unionization, an issue he said should be kept separate from other community concerns.

“CORD was the only one of a dozen groups that we met with that refused to give us any real details about their proposals, and the only one to tie in the union issue,” he said. “We met with a broadest community base as we could.”

The dispute over unionization between the hospital and the Service Employees International Union District 1199 hinges on whether a secret-ballot vote for unionizing hospital employees should be held under National Labor Relations Board regulations. Both CORD and the SEIU claim the NLRB process unfairly favors hospital management, but the hospital will only support an NLRB election.

District 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said the hospital and CORD have not done enough to address the dispute, and a community benefits agreement is not enough to alleviate tensions between the hospital and local residents.

“I keep telling both sides of this debate that they are ignoring the 8,000-pound elephant sitting in the middle of the table, which is a union election agreement,” he said. “Both sides need to compromise and reach some common ground. I don’t see the community benefits agreement as a guaranteed quid pro quo so that the hospital can build the cancer center.”

James said she is displeased that the hospital has not made an effort to cooperate specifically with her, and local organizations supporting the hospital’s plans, such as the Hill Development Corporation, do not adequately represent the community.

“Hill Development does wonderful work, but they only really understand housing,” she said. “As a hospital, if you have people who live directly in the community saying ‘We want to converse with you,’ how rude and disrespectful it is to ignore them … and we can’t forget that the people who work at the hospital also live here in New Haven.”

Petrini said the hospital considered issues raised by several groups, including healthcare benefits, affordable housing and transportation subsidies espoused by CORD. The cancer center will be energy efficient and achieve green building status, Petrini said, and Yale-New Haven will demolish the Grace Building in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Though CORD and other groups have raised concerns about potential demolition of residential property to build the cancer center, the hospital plans to build the center over existing Yale-New Haven property and the connected parking garage and office building over two city-owned lots.

Petrini said private development of the garage and office space would create property tax revenue for the city, while the cancer center will generate $3.5 million in PILOT payments, state funds given to the city in lieu of tax revenue. The Grace Building, located on the site of the planned center, currently generates about $150,000 in PILOT payments every year.

The Greater New Haven Clergy Association and Boys & Girls Club of New Haven have expressed approval for the hospital’s community investment program.

Samuel Foster, chair of the Hill North Management Team, said the hospital has been receptive to local concerns.

“The hospital has held a series of meetings with Hill leaders to gain our input on the needs of our community,” he said in a press release. “The Hill will benefit from the cancer center project with expanded community benefits to include support for housing, jobs and much more.”

If the aldermen give their approval, the hospital plans to break ground for the cancer center in September and open the facility in the fall of 2008.

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