No answers for workers
FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - More than 80 former employees of Saint Catherine Medical Center met with owner Robert M. Lane on Tuesday to get answers about the medical center's situation, but most came away frustrated.
The meeting occurred one day after the hospital filed for relief under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of U.S. Trustee, appointed attorney William G. Schwab, Lehighton, as the Chapter 11 trustee.
Tuesday's meeting began at 1 p.m. and lasted about 25 minutes. As the employees left the building, many complained that they hadn't learned much about their personal situations or the hospital's fate. One employee was overheard saying that when the questioning of Lane became "slighted heated," Lane ended the meeting.
Only employees were allowed to attend the meeting, leaving Guy Wiederhold and Jo Waugh-Derk, staff representatives of District Council 89 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, waiting outside.
"We truly thought they would let us in but obviously that didn't work," Wiederhold said.
Wiederhold, Waugh-Derk and Barry Spieles, president of AFSCME Local 2482, which represents 87 of the hospital's employees, asked everyone to gather in the parking lot after the meeting so members could complete paperwork.
"We're going to have you fill out forms," Wiederhold said to the group. "Our attorneys want you to fill them out to make sure you get everything you're entitled to."
"We were told (by Lane) the bankruptcy lawyers are going to take charge and their first priority is to pay the employees the salaries they're owed and the 'PTO,' which is the vacation time that we had filled out," Spieles said.
Echocardiographer Christine Hamilton, of Pottsville, who worked at the hospital for 13 1/2 years, was upset about the lack of information at the meeting.
"It was a waste of time for all of us to come here," Hamilton said in the parking lot. "All he (Lane) said is he doesn't know anything and the bankruptcy lawyers would be handling everything. That was pretty much it. He pretty much talked in circles."
Hamilton said Lane spoke five to 10 minutes and then opened the floor for questions.
"He pretty much didn't answer anything," Hamilton said. "He was asked why our money was stolen from us, and his answer was that he didn't know what was going on and that the CEO and the CFO were running the hospital."
Hamilton said she noticed problems more than a month ago, especially in getting paid on time.
"Our pays started to become late, and two weeks later our pays didn't happen - and still hasn't happened," she said. "Personally, they owe me three weeks of pay, but there are other people who are owed six weeks."
She also talked about having deductions taken from the employees' paychecks that weren't forwarded.
"They stole our money on the things we were paying into," Hamilton said. "We were contributing to our 401(k) and the money never made it to that. Our union dues haven't made it to the union in well over a year. Our short-term disability was canceled and we never knew. Our life insurance was canceled last year and we were still paying for it. I'm the sole provider of my family and if I would have died, they wouldn't have gotten anything. No one ever contacted us about anything. There is no one to help us now. All they do is lie to us. I have things in my office that I can't get to."
Word of mouth
Hamilton said she learned about not having a job by reading in the newspaper that all outpatient services were stopped.
"No administration person called me to tell me I was laid off," Hamilton said.
When asked how she found out about Tuesday's meeting, Hamilton replied, "Facebook. It was word-of-mouth through Facebook. If I didn't have Facebook or the newspaper or TV, I wouldn't know anything."
Hamilton said she had enjoyed working at the hospital.
"I loved this place. They were like family," said Hamilton of her co-workers. "I liked to come to work every day. There are good people here - good doctors, good workers. We took care of each other. I thought I would retire from here."
Melissa Ramsdale, of Atlas, worked for six months as a certified nursing assistant in the hospital's long-term care center until she was fired in January after an argument with payroll employees about a late paycheck.
Ramsdale said she had been told about four times Jan. 20 that the paycheck would be available for pickup, but at 2 p.m. it still wasn't ready.
"I went into the office demanding my pay, and the payroll ladies said they were working on it," Ramsdale said. "I said, 'You're supposed to working on this for two days.'"
Ramsdale said the argument caught the attention of then-CFO Merlyn Knapp, who came into the office.
"He heard me screaming at them and them screaming at me," Ramsdale said. "Knapp took me to his office and said he would see what he could do."
She received her paycheck about 20 minutes later but still couldn't cash it at the bank.
"There was a problem at the bank to hold the checks," Ramsdale said.
She worked shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then received a phone call from the long-term care center manager that she was terminated because of what happened in the payroll office.
"I had no union representation. It was done over the phone," Ramsdale said. "I filed for unemployment and they denied me."
Struggling with small things
Ramsdale also said that there was an ongoing shortage of supplies at the hospital.
"There were never any supplies. We were constantly running out of everything," she said.
Spieles, of Ashland, worked in the boiler room for 10 years. He said that as a union representative, he has received complaints over time.
"With me being president of the union, I hear them all," Spieles said. "During the last six months, we've been struggling with the small things. People had supplies but they didn't have them in abundance. As far as the boiler room, I was never without coal. When you get down to the bottom line, it was management. Management closes businesses. We are workers here. We're dedicated here. We're dedicated to this hospital because we're like family around here."
Wiederhold spoke to many union members in the parking lot and said not much was learned in the meeting.
"What I learned about the meeting was not much of anything other than the fact that they're going into bankruptcy," Wiederhold said. "Once our people started asking questions, they cut it off. It wasn't much of an information session."
Wiederhold said the forms completed by the members were being forwarded to AFSCME attorneys.
"Our attorneys are already working on this," he said. "They've reached out to Schwab (Chapter 11 trustee) and the attorneys at Saint Catherines. The process has already been started."