Westerly Hospital eliminates 45 jobs in advance of sale to L+M

Westerly — Forty-five Westerly Hospital workers received notices this week that their positions are being eliminated as the closing date for the facility's sale to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital approaches.

About 30 of the 45 are not members of one of the two hospital unions. The 15 unionized workers are support services staff, L+M spokesman Mike O'Farrell said Tuesday.

Most of the affected workers are in the business office, which is being consolidated at the larger New London hospital, O'Farrell said. But a cashier's office, where patients can pay bills, will remain at The Westerly Hospital, he said.

Also this week, L+M sent about 600 letters to full- and part-time Westerly Hospital staff offering them positions at the hospital once it becomes part of L+M. A closing is scheduled to take place over two days, May 30 and 31, O'Farrell said.

The termination decisions were made jointly by L+M and attorney Mark Russo, the court-appointed special master for Westerly Hospital while it has been in receivership. The letters offering employment to current Westerly Hospital workers were signed by Donna Epps, L+M's vice president of human resources.

"We're working toward a smooth closing at the end of May," O'Farrell said.

In the sales agreement approved by Rhode Island Hospital regulators, L+M committed to maintaining all clinical staff. The elimination of positions in the business office and other areas has been anticipated, he said. No additional jobs losses are expected.

"There was always going to be some restructuring of services and consolidation of management," O'Farrell said. "This meets all of the commitments and standards of the asset purchase agreement."

Jackie Desmond, president of the nurses' union, said the job losses "were not a surprise."

"But it's still sad," she said, adding that all members of her union retained their jobs. "We're a small hospital and everybody knows everybody. There's been a lot of anxiety."

The layoffs will take effect immediately for many of the 30 non-union workers, O'Farrell said. Many of the 15 union workers have the right to move into positions of those with less seniority, so it will be several more days before the final outcome is reached.

"Affected employees can apply for open positions at L+M," O'Farrell said.

In addition to the job losses, Westerly Hospital also last week closed its outpatient lab at the Mystic Medical Center on Clara Drive. Patients are being directed to use lab services at the main hospital, at the Morgan Medical Building on Wells Street in Westerly, at Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley, R.I., and at L+M facilities at the Pequot Health Center in Groton and the L+M Stonington Health Center in Pawcatuck.

L+M is purchasing Westerly Hospital for $69 million, including the assumption of $22 million in debt, closing costs of $1.5 million, $6.5 million in working capital during the first two years, and $30 million in new technology, equipment and expansion of services over the next five years.

In the agreement, L+M commits to continuing Westerly as a nonprofit hospital and to maintain it as an acute care, community hospital for at least five years. It agrees to maintain all clinical services available at the time of closing for at least two years. Obstetrics services will be discontinued just prior to the closing.

j.benson@theday.com

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