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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Beth Israel Deaconess CEO and union lock horns

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

The head of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the union trying to organize workers at Boston teaching hospitals are trading accusations of unfair tactics.

Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy says that the Service Employees International Union uses a strategy that includes attacking the reputations of hospitals, its senior management and its trustees. In an item posted on his blog Monday called "Pages from the Playbook," Levy says one part of the approach is to accuse hospitals of not carrying out their public service mission.

Last week, union Local 1199 sent a report to Beth Israel trustees alleging that the hospital made "potentially misleading representation of charity care" in its financial statements.

This follows a report from the union last month that said Beth Israel has higher emergency room costs than other major hospitals in Boston and as a result uses more of the state's uncompensated care pool to gain reimbursement for free care to uninsured patients, according to this Globe story. Beth Israel said then that it follows the rules and regulations governing the pool and had not received any indication to the contrary from the state.

In an e-mailed statement responding today to a request for comment, Local 1199 executive vice president Mike Fadel called Levy's blog entry "intellectually dishonest" and a "tired rhetorical device of attacking the messenger."

"The tactic of decrying critics of an institution's policies as being somehow disloyal is something that we might expect from the Bush administration. It is not something that should be coming from the leader of one of Boston's most important healthcare institutions," Fadel said. "The act of demanding a community institution uphold its social mission and obligations is not something that warrants a broadside attack."

While not responding to the charity care allegations, Levy wrote that the SEIU attempts to pressure hospitals into agreeing to the "card check" method of organizing workers rather than holding an election to see if they want the union to represent them. He also says union researchers pore through financial documents for inconsistencies that will embarrass trustees.

"The key is to pick a topic that garners a headline and public concern, like provision of care to poor people," Levy wrote. "It is also helpful to pick an arcane accounting issue that few understand, so that a cogent and concise rebuttal by the hospital is virtually impossible in the regular media."

The union said the hospital lowered by 30 percent the figures it had reported for un-reimbursed charity care in 2005, without providing an explanation for the change.

"BIDMC's financial reporting with respect to charity care may deny board members necessary information to evaluate the extent of the hospital's charitable activity," Fadel wrote in the July 26 letter sent to trustees with the union's report.

Levy said his colleagues at the hospital are wondering whether SEIU is preparing for a union drive at Beth Israel.

"Or is it sending a message to other hospitals in the city that it will attack anybody who has the nerve to speak out against its tactics?" he said they are asking.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:27 PM
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