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Unions seek role in hospitals' partnership talks

The unions of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London and The Westerly Hospital this week sent a joint letter to the chief executive officers of both hospitals asking to be part of the committee exploring a possible merger or partnership.

"The approval process for something of this magnitude is lengthy and complex in both states," Harry Rodriguez, president of L&M Healthcare Workers Union Local 5123, said in a news release. "Our members will have lots of questions and if we are on the Joint Steering Committee we will be better able to give them answers."

Signing the letter along with Rodriguez were Jan Salsich and Judy Lawrence, presidents, respectively, of United Nurses and Allied Professionals locals 5075 and 5104 at The Westerly Hospital, and Lisa D'Abrosca and Stephanie Johnson, presidents, respectively, of locals 5049 and 5051 of AFT Connecticut at L&M.

"In this process, it is important that our community is assured that they will continue to have access to all of the high quality services they have come to rely upon us to provide them in their own community," Salsich said.

The unions said in a statement that they want to play a positive and constructive role in the process by participating as important discussions are taking place and decisions being made.

Talks between the boards and administrations of The Westerly Hospital and L&M began this summer and were publicly announced in September. Hospital officials have said it would take at least until the end of this year to complete the research and analysis to determine whether a merger or partnership would be pursued. Any merger or affiliation between the two would have to be approved by hospital regulators from both Connecticut and Rhode Island.

AFT Connecticut spokesman Eric Bailey said Thursday that the unions had mistakenly believed they would be represented on the committee, and made the request after learning that "there was really nobody representing them." Union members will be asking their leaders many questions about the talks and whatever decisions are made, so it will be advantageous for all parties for the union leaders to have first-hand information, he said.

"It only makes sense to have our folks at the table," he said. "It will help the process to go a lot smoother."

Spokesmen for both hospitals said they had just received the request and that it is being evaluated.

"A response will follow after it is reviewed and discussed," said Nick Stahl, spokesman for The Westerly Hospital.

j.benson@theday.com

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