University Hospital Employees Seek Severance Answers
Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD
University Hospital employees packed a meeting with lawmakers Wednesday peppering hospital and retirement system officials with questions about a severance package workers say they have to accept by Dec. 15, which requires that they sign away their rights under several federal and state laws.
Signing the separation agreement is mandated by House Bill 1224, which applies to laid-off state workers in general, but will impact first the 2,500 or so hospital workers whose state service will be terminated as of Dec. 31, the effective date of a joint operating agreement between the University Hospitals Authority and Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest health care corporation. They will be picked up as Columbia/HCA employees on Jan. 1.
Payment of mandatory benefits plus accrued time off or annual leave is expected to cost the authority about $16 million. The meeting was chaired by Rep. Dan Webb, R-Oklahoma City, who said employees are essentially due to be laid off within 45 days, but are frustrated at what they see as a lack of information to make a decision on accepting the severance package. All hospital workers will be re-employed under the agreement on Jan. 1. For the first six months after that, any reductions in force are to be based on seniority. Jim Hazeldine, with the Office of Personnel Management, said the bill requires that employees receive a longevity payment for 1997, plus payment of 18 months of health care coverage or an equivalent amount in cash. Thus far, the hospitals authority has chosen to offer only these two benefits. "We are prepared, certainly, to meet the mandated costs in our operating budget," said Dr. Timothy Coussons, hospital CEO. Under the new law, an agency can also provide payment for up to one week's pay for each year of service, a maximum lump sum of $5,000, payment for accumulated sick leave at one-half an employee's hourly rate, plus additional payment of health premiums for not to exceed 18 months. Sen. Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said the question is whether the state and Columbia/HCA will keep promises that were made to hospital workers. …