Union demands Care New England execs give back $4M in pay

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The union that represents 2,200 Care New England workers is calling on executives there to return $4 million in compensation two weeks after the hospital group ordered another round of significant layoffs.

SEIU New England District 1199, which represents nurses and other workers at Women & Infants and Butler hospitals, held informational pickets Tuesday to decry the job cuts and call attention to the $5.7 million Care New England reported spending on compensation for officers, directors, trustees and key employees in its most recent tax filing.

Linda Burke, a phlebotomist at Women & Infants, singled out for criticism Care New England President and CEO Dennis Keefe, whose compensation was reported as $1.4 million in the tax filing.

“Keefe has really mismanaged our hospital,” Burke said in a statement. “Now, instead of tightening his belt, he’s paying himself millions and trying to lay off the people who actually work to make our hospitals so great.”

Care New England executives have described the layoffs as an unfortunate but necessary step, after the hospital group posted an operating loss of $40 million from October through March. It recently reached deals to sell Memorial Hospital to Prime Healthcare and have the rest of Care New England merge with Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts’ largest hospital group.

Jim Beardsworth, a spokesman for Care New England, said the union’s move was “not unexpected.” He said “senior leadership” as well as “managers” have also been laid off at Care New England, and argued the union was choosing to “misconstrue the numbers” on executive pay by “lumping base salaries and accelerated retirement benefits together.”

“The efforts today by the union fail to practically address the scope and severity of the financial challenges before us, choosing instead to take publicly available financial data out of context,” Beardsworth said. He again blamed the financial issues on fewer patients, lower-paying insurance, changing medical needs and payment caps put in place by the state.

Patrick Quinn, executive vice president of SEIU 1199, said the union has yet to take a position on Care New England’s proposed merger with Partners. “We will continue to evaluate how a proposed merger would affect patient care and impact workers,” he said.

Care New England said it had about 6,580 employees as of last month.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook