By Tien-Shun Lee
According to Dr. Alan Zeitlin, the president of Parkway, located at 70-35 113th St., the hospital failed to pay Local 1199 about $10.5 million because it did not receive the funds expected from Medicare and Medicaid. Local 1199 is the health care workers' union that represents about 90 percent of the hospital's 670 employees.
“There are many hospitals that owed significant amounts to the union,” said Zeitlin. “With health care being what it is, it's not uncommon.”
A 1199 spokeswoman, who preferred not to give her name, said the union provided free benefits for Parkway's employees from October 2003 through February because their employer failed to come up with funding for the benefits.
Two weeks ago the union froze bank accounts for the private hospital, and the hospital's union employees, including nurses, nurses' aides, dietary staff and maintenance staff, were unable to cash their checks for three days. Union leaders threatened that unless bills were paid, employees would lose their benefits, which include health insurance, retirement pensions, child care, training and upgrading funds and transition funds in case of layoffs.
“There's no doubt that the healthcare reimbursement system is a troubled one and the whole industry is in financial distress, but there are some bills you have to pay,” said the union spokeswoman. “Everyone was really concerned that they were going to lose their health benefits and that the hospital would close.”
Zeitlin said the 251-bed hospital, which prides itself on giving more personal care to patients who mostly come from around the neighborhood, is not in danger of closing.
“We have no expectations of closing. We think we will maintain the position that we presently have,” said Zeitlin, who is a surgeon.
Zeitlin said the hospital had paid a $1 million lump sum to Local 1199, and planned to stick to the weekly payment schedule it had worked out with the union. The hospital currently is waiting for a large payment from Medicare so that it can pay the union an additional lump sum of $500,000, said Zeitlin.
While Zeitlin said the union had never frozen the hospital's accounts in the past as it did two weeks ago, the 1199 spokeswoman said accounts were frozen last year as well due to non payment.
Following that freeze, hospital officials signed an agreement saying that they would make certain payments according to a payment plan, but they failed to stick to that arrangement, the union spokeswoman said.
In addition to defaulting on the $10.5 million in employee benefits funding, Parkway also owes Local 1199 the union dues deducted from workers' paychecks over the last three years, the union spokeswoman added.
“The hospital has been severely delinquent repeatedly on agreements they've made with us over the last number of years – so much so that we now have security interests in their real estate,” the spokeswoman said.
Forest Hills activist Estelle Chwat, a former public relations representative for Parkway, said the hospital's emergency room is one of the finest in the area.
“This has always been my hospital,” said Chwat. “It's the closest one to the airport, and the only one along the Grand Central Parkway. They had beautiful waiting areas on every floor and Christmas caroling. We must maintain our hospitals.”
Zeitlin said out of the hospital's 251 beds, on average about 155 to 160 beds are occupied.
“We're a nice community hospital. Our strongest suit over other hospitals is that we really do have personal care and patients get to know their physicians and nurses,” said Zeitlin. “I think our employees want to work here and like working here. In general, we have a very good relationship with all of our employees.”
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.