Several New Haven religious leaders presented a declaration to Yale-New Haven Hospital officials Monday morning, outlining their concerns about the proposed Yale-New Haven cancer center’s impact on the community.

The group settled for submitting their declaration, signed by 101 local clergy, to Yale-New Haven spokesman Vincent Petrini. The letter expressed support for the cancer center while also requesting that certain issues be addressed prior to its construction. In their declaration, the group called on Yale-New Haven to engage in dialogue with the surrounding neighborhood and address concerns regarding free care funds and unionization, said the Rev. Emilio Hernandez, who participated in Monday’s press conference.

The group originally requested a meeting with Yale-New Haven President Marna Borgstrom, but she was unavailable. Petrini met with the group to accept their letter, and they thanked him for the hospital’s decision Friday to cancel all patient debts incurred before Oct. 1, 2003. He said he is pleased that the clergy thanked the hospital for cancelling the open debt cases, but issues of unionization should not interfere with the construction of the cancer center.

“I think the issues around the approval of the cancer center which were alluded to in their letter and the issues surrounding the unionization process should be separate,” Petrini said.

Several clergy members who delivered the letter are also members of Community Organized for Responsible Development, a local advocacy group that has supported the unionization of workers.

Hernandez said members of the clergy who are also members of CORD have been working to raise awareness of issues surrounding the cancer center project throughout the community, in an effort to exert greater influence on the hospital.

“Once they see the whole picture, they will understand,” Hernandez said. “We want the hospital to sit down with the community and negotiate.”

Ward 1 Alderman-elect Nick Shalek ’05 said the hospital has in fact sat down with many members of the community. He also said that although the unionization issue is important, he thinks it should be considered separately from the cancer center.

“The cancer center project needs to move forward,” Shalek said. “(We) need to focus on resolving issues … so that New Haven, sooner rather than later, can receive the benefits that the cancer center promises to deliver.”

Service Employees International Union spokesman William Meyerson said all the issues that have surrounded the cancer center during the past year are still pertinent. He said the union supports the center’s construction, provided that the hospital agrees to abide by rules of conduct concerning workers’ unionization rights.

“For a long time we have said that the issue is not whether the center is built, it’s how,” Meyerson said.

Hernandez said that while the debt cancellation represents a step in the right direction, he believes that the hospital needs to do more to ensure that future patients do not incur additional debts by changing the system that originally caused them. Following the construction of the new cancer center, he said, hospital workers should have funding available that allows them to receive care at Yale-New Haven without worrying about how to pay for it.

“We want to make sure that there’s a process inside there to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hernandez said. “Whoever is cleaning that bed should be able to actually lay on it.”

Jorge Perez, president of the Board of Aldermen, said he thinks community pressure on the hospital has led to many recent positive changes regarding the hospital’s treatment of medical debt.

Yale-New Haven announced on Sept. 7 that the state’s Office of Health approved its application for the construction of the center, but the project has not yet received a go-ahead from city officials.