Last week, 231 workers at the Downtown facility, mainly nursing assistants, technicians and registered nurses, got their pink slips. Meanwhile, the hospital insisted that vital emergency services would remain, but warned that some services would be transferred to other hospitals.
The hospital is slowly phasing out its inpatient admissions. The hospital still will be able to treat emergencies, but patients, once stabilized, will be transferred to other hospitals. The hospital will provide what is called "satellite emergency care."
This change will come with the elimination of what is called "acute" and "sub-acute" care. The former is the place patients are transferred to after getting emergency care. Instead of staying in a bed in St. Francis, these patients, after being stabilized, will be transferred to St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken or Christ Hospital in Jersey City.
"We'll give you all the care in the emergency room," said hospital spokeswoman Joan Quigley, "but after that care, we won't admit you upstairs; we'll admit you up the hill. We'll still have the doctors and all the nurses and all the equipment here."
Other services like EKG and blood testing will be eliminated as well.
While St. Francis will keep some of its services, over the next several months, it will also partially transform itself to a "rehabilitation and geriatric" care center. Part of this is because of the need to move patients out of the Franciscan Home, a nursing home in Jersey City also owned by the chain.
"We need a better place to put nursing home patients," said Quigley, and St. Francis was "the weakest and smallest of the hospitals."
The changes came on the heels of a recent merger that brings Christ Hospital, on Palisade Avenue, into the Bon Secours group, which includes St. Francis, St. Mary in Hoboken and the Franciscan Home and Rehabilitation Center in Jersey City.
Quigley said the cuts came down to simple math, as the hospital was losing serious money.
"We were losing so much money," she said, "we could not invest in staff and programs."
She cited problems of empty hospital beds and cuts in Medicare funding.
The hospital will put in a request to the state to eliminate the acute care beds by May 1.
Community leaders felt the decision was reached without the consultation of those who would be affected, and workers feel that they were misled.
"In the very beginning, when we met with the CEO," said cardiac technician and union executive board member Donna Viscardi, "he had promised that everyone would have a meaningful assignment, that there would not be a loss of jobs."
Those workers have lobbied council members, mayoral hopefuls and the press in an effort to stop the cuts. But it seems unlikely the hospital will be swayed.
"We're doing all we can to find them jobs, in the system or out," Quigley said.
She said job fairs have been arranged with other employers. "They don't want to leave, and I understand."
Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association President and Ward E council candidate Geoff Elkind faults the hospital for a lack of good public relations.
"Although the hospital said they reached out to the community," he said, "which community they reached out to is a mystery to us."
Quigley said that the hospital, in fact, met with neighborhood associations and senior groups. But Elkind contends that the meetings came well after a decision was reached and said the hospital is "acting as if it's a fait accompli."
An assemblywoman for the 32nd District, Quigley said in-patient care will also be phased out, to be moved to St. Mary or Christ, and the nursing school will also be razed and could be turned into a garden.
St. Francis now operates fewer than 100 beds and closed 22 last week.
Members of 1199J, the union representing the hospital workers, will be holding a candlelight vigil on April 25 outside the hospital.