LIBERTY - About three dozen Forum Health Service Employees International workers gathered Monday afternoon in their union hall on Belmont Avenue to hear how the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing will affect them and the patients they serve.
"I'm concerned how this will be perceived by the public," said Maryann Lloyd, a unit secretary for the mother-baby unit who has worked for the hospital chain for 37 years. "We employees are committed to providing excellent care to the community. We won't let this interfere."
SEIU represents 1,200 workers at all of Forum's facilities, including Northside Medical Center, Trumbull Memorial Hospital and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital. It is the largest union in the health system, said Rob Johnson, hospital division director of the SEIU. In all, about 4,000 people work for the hospital chain in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
Johnson said the union was notified of the bankruptcy filing at 8:30 a.m. March 16. At a news conference that morning, Johnson said Forum CEO Walter Pishkur implied the unions would need to give concessions to allow the system return to financial stability.
"We have been in conversations with Forum Health as regards to their financial stability for the last eight months," Johnson said. "We still, to date, do not have the information we've been requesting. We're disappointed in the bankruptcy, but we somewhat welcome it because it Forum will have to be more transparent because of it."
The SEIU has taken concessions over the last three years totaling $13 million, Johnson said, including freezing the pension fund, moving to a 401(k) retirement plan instead of defined benefit pension and paying for health care.
The news about the bankruptcy has many union members worried.
"It's scary," said Lloyd. "The management says this is a good thing they're trying to do, it will help us restructure and make us more viable. But what happens when people hear the "B" word is people get frightened. I'm reassured this is Chapter 11 restructuring and we will come out of this."
Lloyd said she and her fellow union members would listen to what the hospital has to say when it comes to restructuring.
"None of us want to lose our jobs," she said. "Do we want it all on our backs? No, we can't afford it. But we are committed to keeping Forum Health viable."
Dodie Gennaro, a 31-year employee who works in the corporate billing office, said she was confident the hospital chain would emerge from bankruptcy.
"The company relies on investments," she said. "And in this economy, everyone's investments are down," she said. "This is a legal procedure we have to follow. We will come out of this."
She said she was encouraged by the fact that hospital leaders have said job cuts are not part of the restructuring plan for now.
"As of today, there are no layoffs," she said. "Payday is still on Friday, and the checks will come on time. Forum Health has never missed an obligation. Things will continue as normal."
After meeting Monday morning with Forum officials at the Hillside headquarters, union leaders said patients would continue to receive quality care as the hospital restructures its finances.
''Our nurses will continue to deliver quality care at a high level,'' said Eric Williams, who represents registered nurses at Northside.
Noting the quality care provided by members of the three unions she represents at Trumbull Memorial and Hillside, Debbie Bindas of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the filing was almost ''a relief'' because the system now can chart its course toward reorganizing.
''There's a light at the end of the tunnel,'' she said.
Tribune news editor Larry Ringler contributed to this report.