With relations increasingly tense between Yale-New Haven Hospital and unions trying to organize there, critics of the hospital have proposed two laws that would increase public oversight over the institution.
The proposals, which were submitted this week to the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee, do not single out Yale-New Haven Hospital explicitly, but they would apply to “any hospital receiving in excess of fifty million dollars” of public funding. One bill would increase public oversight of the hospital, while the other would empower the state Attorney General to more readily investigate — and then prosecute or sue — the hospital if it does not fulfill its charitable mission. Representatives of the hospital opposed the bills and questioned whether they would be “good policy.”
Michael Lawlor, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the bills will not come to a vote until late March or early April. He said the primary objective of the bills is to facilitate a discussion about whether or not the hospital is being “irresponsible with its responsibilities to the community.”
“The basic concept is to get more community input and oversight over what takes place at the hospital — it’s kind of hard to argue with that,” Lawlor said. He added that it would not be unfair to single out Yale-New Haven Hospital because it’s “just Yale-New Haven that seems to be having these problems.”
The hospital’s administrators have not yet decided whether they will lobby against the bills — “there’s a long road ahead,” spokesman Vin Petrini said — but they have already come out in firm opposition to the new measures. Petrini said the proposals struck him as a strong-arm tactic designed to pressure the hospital into acquiescing to the union’s every demand.
“I think you have to question whether it’s good policy to single out a single organization in this way,” he said. “We’re confident that members of the General Assembly will recognize this for what it is.”
Petrini said the hospital is committed to a fair vote, but that the vote should be by secret ballot, not the card-check system that the union would prefer. In a card check, a union would be formed as soon as 50 percent of the workers sign a union card.
Local 1199 spokesman Bill Meyerson said the bills would have a “positive impact” on all aspects of the community’s relationship with the hospital. He called the proposals “common-sense good government.”
“There’s been a continuous issue with regard to Yale-New Haven Hospital and its Board of Trustees with regard to the accountability and transparency of their operations,” said Meyerson. “Because [it] is the largest hospital in the state and receives by far the most public money, the state has the most at stake … You wouldn’t have a Board of Education where the board members were not accountable.”
In recent weeks, community leaders have expressed deep frustration — and increasing pessimism — about the relationship between the hospital and the union. Both sides seemed to be progressing steadily toward a mid-December vote that all agreed was fair until accusations of intimidation began flying from both sides.
In a recent interview, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said he had never witnessed such tension between the two sides.
“This is about as bad as I’ve ever seen this,” DeStefano said.
And Yale President Richard Levin, who sits on the hospital’s Board of Trustees, said on Wednesday that he was “not totally optimistic.” He said he is, however, in “close touch” with the principal actors over how to best move forward.
“I certainly would not want anything happening at the hospital to jeopardize or undermine the good efforts that we’ve made with locals to achieve a stronger and more collaborative relationship [and] my sense is that they don’t want that either,” Levin said. “There is a commitment on both sides to try to maintain the momentum we’ve had.”
Several dozen students — members of groups ranging from the NAACP to the Undergraduate Organizing Committee — have made unsuccessful visits to hospital CEO Marna Borgstrom’s office in the past several weeks to talk to her, and they said they planned to return Friday morning. Petrini said there might be an appropriate time in the future for someone in the hospital’s administration — not necessarily Borgstrom herself — to meet with the students.
Borgstrom was called to testify Monday morning before the independent arbitrator Margaret Kern, who will soon rule on the merits of complaints filed by both sides of the dispute.