September will be a demanding month for Yale New-Haven Hospital, as its transition to a new president will overlap with the hospital’s final push for approval of plans for its $430 million cancer center, already complicated by delays.
Over the summer, the hospital and local opponent have been working to reach a common ground on issues regarding the center and its accompanying commercial complexes. Though Yale-New Haven originally planned to break ground for the center by October, when current President Joseph Zaccagnino will be replaced by current Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Marna Borgstrom, its request for a special zoning status could delay approval by the Board of Aldermen.
Yale-New Haven has petitioned the city to create a business-medical zone for the cancer center, which has different specifications for acceptable construction and land use than the planned development district the hospital currently occupies. Before the aldermen can make a final decision about the center, the New Haven City Plan Commission must agree upon and submit a modified proposal for zoning changes to the board. In addition, Yale-New Haven must secure approval regarding at least 10 other issues, from both the aldermen and the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access.
Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini said hospital officials are not concerned that Zaccagnino’s retirement will disrupt the construction of the center.
“Marna Borgstrom is extremely experienced and has already been very involved with these issues,” he said. “We are confident that the transition will go smoothly.”
But William Meyerson, the spokesman for the union local which represents dietary workers at the hospital and is leading an organizing drive there, said the appointment will not improve relations between the hospital and its employees. The union local, Service Employees International Union District 1199, and Yale-New Haven have a history of conflict over unionization rights.
“The selection of Marna Borgstrom would appear to be business as usual, but we hope we’re wrong,” Meyerson said. “The resignation of Zaccagnino represented an opportunity for Yale-New Haven Hospital to begin to repair its broken relationship with the community, but that doesn’t appear to be the direction they are taking with the new appointment.”
Petrini said the SEIU bears some responsibility for delaying approval of the cancer center by teaming up with local groups to challenge aspects of the hospital’s proposal.
But Meyerson said the hospital has itself to blame if concerned community members slow the center’s approval.
“It does have to do with the union in that it has to do with workers,” he said. “On several occasions, a majority of workers have called on the hospital administration to create a fair process under which employees can choose to unionize without intimidation and interference, and the hospital has denied them.”
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., criticized the hospital for proposing a plan for the center that might side-step government oversight.
“The hospital proposed the creation … of a zone that would anticipate all future growth,” DeStefano said. “Frankly, I think they’re unnecessarily complicating it, by making it a broader issue.”
City Plan Department executive director Karyn Gilvarg ARCH ’75 said the City Plan Commission has held a number of public hearings this summer, allowing advocates for the hospital and concerned community members to voice their opinions.
Gilvarg said the hospital’s zoning proposal, which has been remolded over the past few months, will most likely change again in the coming weeks.
“They proposed a broadly defined and very permissive zone, which would allow for quite large buildings with virtually no design review,” she said. “What we hope to propose back is a two-step process that is a little narrower, through which we can hem in the size and bulk of the center and create a review process for the future.”
She said the commission will meet again to review Yale-New Haven’s proposal Sept. 7, and there are no other future meetings scheduled to discuss the cancer center.
Petrini said the hospital has been cooperating with city officials in an effort to expedite rezoning, but inherent complications are likely to delay the center’s construction.
Due to the presence of a large quantity of asbestos insulation in the Grace Building, which will be razed to make space for the center, Petrini said the structure will require a slow brick-by-brick demolition. This process will take about three months, he said.
The cancer center has also encountered friction from other area hospitals. St. Raphael Hospital President David Benfer believes the cancer center could create an unnecessarily large capacity, increasing patient costs in New Haven, his spokesman Bill Brucker said.
Petrini said Yale-New Haven officials are open to meeting with St. Raphael to discuss the center.
“We are surprised they waited so long to say anything, since the plans have been public for a while now,” he said.
Yale-New Haven also recently received subpoenas from state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as part of an inquiry into anti-trust violations involving health care vendors and manufacturers inappropriately influencing purchasers at a number of hospitals around the country.
Blumenthal said the investigation involves the Health Care Research and Development Institute, a limited liability company in Pensacola, Fla.
“HRDI is owned by 40 chief executive officers from hospitals and health-care systems nationwide, including Yale-New Haven’s CEO, Joseph Zaccagnino,” Blumenthal wrote in an e-mail. “Health-care product suppliers and manufacturers apply for membership to HRDI, and on acceptance as corporate members, pay an annual fee to the firm. HRDI only contracts with two suppliers for each product or service. We are investigating because these relationships between hospital CEO, and health-care product suppliers and manufacturers, coupled with HRDI’s practice of limiting membership, raise anti-competitive concerns.”
Yale-New Haven is willing to fully comply with Blumenthal’s investigation, Petrini said.