Today’s news:

150 workers to be laid-off at Jamaica Hospital center

The 387-bed hospital, at the Van Wyck Expressway and Jamaica Avenue, was slated to let go 150 ward clerks, patient assistants and housekeepers, said Ole Pedersen, vice president of public affairs.

The cuts will affect all areas of the hospital and its 13 off-site centers and represent about 6 percent of the facility's work force, he said.

"The staffing cuts, while painful and regrettable, are necessary since the cost structure has to shrink," Pedersen said in a statement. "The hospital will make every effort to assist those staff members whose positions are being eliminated."

Members of Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, which represents hospital workers, protested the layoffs outside the emergency room Feb. 25 to raise awareness of the job losses.

Representatives from the union did not return calls seeking comment.

The hospital's administration blamed the need for layoffs on state and federal reimbursement rates for care of elderly and poor patients, a news release from the hospital said. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 capped annual growth of Medicare reimbursements at 4 percent a year, yet the costs of labor, prescriptions, insurance and other expenses have grown tenfold, the release said.

The center provided $45 million in caring for uninsured patients last year, but the state only reimbursed $20 million of that, the release said.

And Jamaica Hospital, a Level One Trauma Center, designed to handle some of the most severe cases, has one of the busiest emergency rooms in New York - treating more than 100,000 patients a year - but Medicaid rates for emergency room visits have not been increased for 13 years, the release said.

"Despite heroic efforts to spread costs by maximizing efficiency and consolidating services, the revenues are insufficient to support the present staffing level, which has tripled in the last 15 years as the hospital grew dramatically," Pedersen said.

The staff was notified of the layoffs about a month ago and they were set to go into effect Friday, he said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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