Hundreds Rally At The Slated-For-Closure Judge Joseph S. Mattina Community Health Care Center On Buffalo’s West Side - Area Residents, Leaders & Unionized Health Care Workers Charge Kaleida Is Turning Its Back On The Low-Income Community
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: As many as 300 Community Residents, Patients and Activists, as well as Unionized Health Care Workers, Civil Rights, Religious and Elected Representatives, joined together late today (Monday, April 4th) to publicly protest Kaleida Health’s decision to close the Judge Joseph S. Mattina Community Health Care Center, which serves a vast number of patients who live in the surrounding low-income neighborhoods on Buffalo’s West Side. (WNYLaborToday.com Photo)
(BUFFALO) - Despite the fact the Judge Joseph S. Mattina Community Health Care Center had 44,000 patient visits in 2010, the West Side Medical Center is slated for closure by Kaleida Health, which was charged by an array of area residents, patients and activists - as well as Unionized Health Care Workers, Civil Rights, Religious and Elected Representatives - with turning its back on one of Buffalo’s lowest-income neighborhoods.
“This is a Spanish-speaking community whose medical center, which had forty-four-thousand patient visits last year, is being forced to leave because it does not ‘fit into’ (Kaleida’s) plans,” Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1168 President John Klein told the estimated 300 people who took part in the public action outside the Niagara Street Medical Center. “(Kaleida’s) mission is to serve (our communities) and they’re turning their backs on you! Where are their patients going to go? To emergency rooms? This is an injustice for those who live in this community. It’s an attack on Working People.”
The protest coincided with 1,000 “We Are One” observances and rallies that occurred across the Nation today to commemorate the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and for Working People to stand up to the current “new and serious” attack on Workers’ Rights, said Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation Representative Richard Lipsitz, Jr., who added: “On behalf of all Working People, (Organized Labor) will stand with you against these hospital cuts and Health Care cuts.”
The closing, which Kaleida announced will take place on August 1st, literally threatens to abandon the thousands of low-income West Side patients who depend on the clinic for quality, affordable care. Kaleida’s decision, meanwhile, comes on the heels of closures of other area Kaleida clinics that have served other Buffalo’s low-income communities. Kaleida has either closed or transferred operations of more than six clinics that provide care to those most in need, including Project Reach and the Buffalo General Eye Clinic.
“Enough is enough,” the crowd chanted in unison with Buffalo Common Councilman, the Reverend Darius Pridgen, who said: “We need to bring back power to the people. They cannot shut this facility down without going to the people (who live in this community) first. There must be a plan in place first.”
Buffalo Councilman David Rivera, who said he sat on the board of directors at the Mattina Center when it was previously run by Columbus Hospital, said: “At Mattina, West Side residents have access to Health Care Workers who are familiar with the community and know how to care for the neighborhood’s non-English speaking clients. I can’t understand how Kaleida thinks it’s acceptable to close Mattina and abandon those most in need.”
The crowd grew louder while chanting the words, “We Are One!”
Buffalo AFL-CIO Council President Michael Hoffert, also addressed the crowd: “Today, forty-three years later, and from Memphis to Madison (Wisconsin), the struggle continues. Dr. King’s words ring just as true today as they did in 1968. Today I ask you to stand together with the Working Families and community organizations that are fighting to preserve the Middle Class ‘and’ ‘The American Dream.’ Here in Buffalo, our Public School Teachers haven’t had a contract in eight long years. Our Buffalo Firefighters haven’t been able to hammer out an agreement in more than seven years. As we stand in front of this Community Health Facility, Kaleida Health plan to close this building and deny this community access to necessary health services and eliminate the good-paying jobs of those that care for this community. Dr. King stood with Working People throughout his life. As he said in 1961: ‘In our glorious fight for Civil Rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'Right To Work.' Its purpose is to destroy Labor Unions and the freedom of Collective Bargaining by which Unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. In Solidarity, We Are One!”
When Hoffert yelled out, “Will we let these workers stand alone?,” the crowd answered back: “NO!” Others chanted: “Our Patients Deserve More – Not Less!” Hundreds of signs that carried a number of messages, including “Stop The War On Workers,” “We Are One!” and “Save Our Hospital!” were lifted into the air as speaker after speaker addressed those in attendance.
Established in 80s, the Mattina Community Health Center is open five days a week from eight to twelve hours per day. Seven Nurse Practitioners and three Family Physicians provide Family Health Care, including Prenatal Care and Women’s Health. It also offers open access, as well as same-day urgent appointments to those who walk-in or call. Nearly 22% of all visits are “walk-in” appointments. According to a recent patient census, the client profile is 73% Caribbean Hispanic, 13% White, 8% African-American, 3% Asian. The remaining 3% involves Native Americans, Middle Easterners and Native Africans.
The Mattina Community Health Center also offers basic Dental Services and Radiology, Walk-In Mammography one day a week, Social Work, Laboratory Services, Family Planning Services, Physical Therapy, Podiatry and the services of a Dietitian. The Center also provides van service to and from the facility for medical appointments. Patients without insurance are not turned away. Those in need of medical care are seen and then referred to an on-site facilitated enroller who assists them in applying for Medicaid or Charity Care, which is Kaleida’s Patient Assistance Program.
Nearly 60 workers at the Mattina Community Health Center are represented by CWA Local 1168 and 1199 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare Workers East.
In 2006, Kaleida determined Project Reach, a HIV Prevention and Needle Exchange Program that serves more than 10,000 patients a year, was not an appropriate part of its core mission. It subsequently transferred the patients to other agencies. Over the past few years, Kaleida also closed its WIC Program and the Eye Clinic at Buffalo General Hospital, and transferred operations of the Primary Care Unit at Gates Circle Clinic, the Dental and Oral Surgery Unit at Buffalo General Hospital, and the Outpatient Renal Care and Transplant Clinic. These clinics had provided critical care to thousands of Buffalo residents that were deemed “most in need,” Union Officials said. Despite their best efforts, the agencies that have stepped in to fill the void left by the closures cannot match the quality care that Kaleida’s knowledgeable and experienced Health Care Workers have provided the community for decades, Union Representatives added.
Three Unions, meanwhile, are currently involved in master contract negotiations with Kaleida: CWA, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Service Employees SEIU, which combine to represent 85% of Kaleida’s 10,000 employees. Kaleida’s master contract negotiations began in early March. The agreements cover about 7,800 Kaleida Health Employees and are in effect until May 31st. Kaleida is Western New York’s largest Health System, which operates Buffalo General, DeGraff and Millard Fillmore hospitals. Approximately 900 other Kaleida Employees are covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements with other expiration dates and will not be involved in these negotiations, Union Officials said.
Today’s protest outside the Mattina Community Health Center comes after representatives of two of the three Unions involved in negotiating the new master contract told area Labor Leaders that the Kaleida talks “are not going well” and that Kaleida “really doesn’t care” about bargaining a fair contract with its Union-Represented Workforce.
“We’ve met six times and (Kaleida) wants everything that will (negatively) impact everyone, from housekeepers to pharmacists. They want to freeze pensions. They want a major benefit shift where employees would be paying much more for their Health Care and they want changes in work rules,” CWA Local 1168 President Klein, who is one of a 60-Union Member Bargaining Team, told area Labor Leaders during a recent Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) meeting. “All this - even though (Kaleida CEO James) Kaskie is paid two-point-two-million dollars and the top fifteen highest-paid Kaleida officials make a combined nine-million dollars – at a non-profit!”