Laid off workers rally outside Vanderbilt hospital

Laid off workers rally outside Vanderbilt hospital (Image 1)

A small group of laid off Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) workers and their supporters rallied in the shadow of their former workplace late Friday morning.

They carried signs at the corner of 21st Avenue South and Medical Center Drive for onlookers and motorists that said things like “stop the injustice at Vanderbilt” and “no more cuts.”

Barb Bolen was among those who carried a sign and spoke about being one of an estimated 300 layoffs announced by the medical center in the first week of July.

The Nashville woman ignored a long, written statement she had prepared to question why lower wage, older workers were targeted with layoffs rather than upper management.

“There are some tactics being used for the lower end that are just not right,” she said shaking her head. “I am sure they knew to probably give a lot of people bad evaluations, so that we were the scapegoats instead of the university.”

Roger Sparks says his age may have been a factor when he was let go after 18-years cleaning cages in the animal research section of VUMC.

“I was made to think everything was okay, doing a great job, there were no issues,” he said.

Sparks was one of the former workers last week who joined well-known Nashville lawyers George Barrett and Jerry Martin who are considering a class action lawsuit against VUMC.

Another former worker, Jeff Bible, thought his dismissal might be a violation of federal law.

“I was waiting on final approval of my Family Medical Leave Act, and of course they cut me before they had to deal with that,” he said.

Not all those at the rally focused on those targeted by the layoffs.

Chris Coleman, a Vanderbilt graduate and lawyer at the Tennessee Justice Center, urged Governor Bill Haslam to work out a way for Tennessee hospitals like Vanderbilt to receive payments from Medicaid expansion money that is part of President Obama's sweeping health care law.

“Things like today are only going to get worse, you are going to see more layoffs, more department closings, not just at Vanderbilt, but throughout the state,” he said at the rally.

Coleman estimated that Vanderbilt University Medical Center delivers “$500 million in uncompensated care yearly.”

Coleman said the Medicaid expansion was meant to help cover a large share of those who do not have health care coverage.

As a result, hospitals like Vanderbilt would not have such a large burden of uncompensated care.

Vanderbilt has said its policy is not to comment on personnel matters, but in a July 15 Vanderbilt Medical Center website message, Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. Jeff Balser spoke of some of the numbers behind the layoffs.

He said $100 million dollars is being reduced this current fiscal year's budget and $250 million by the next fiscal year.

That's about eight-percent of its current $3.3 billion budget during the next two years.

Click here to view a statement released by last week by Dr. Balser.

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