Aliquippa Workers to Bridge Finance: ‘Why Are We the First in Line to Work, and the Last in Line for Payment?’

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Photo: Debi Davidson, Unpaid Nurse at CMC

CMC Hospital
Workers Still
Waiting for Pay

By Michael Pound
Beaver County Times

“They found money to pay the lawyers, and they still won’t pay us? It is outrageous.” –Michelle Batchelor, Hopewell Township, former operating room nurse at Commonwealth Medical Center.

———

PITTSBURGH, Feb 18, 2009 – The company that holds the checkbook for the bankrupt Commonwealth Medical Center found money to pay the attorneys who represent many of the hospital’s creditors — but the folks who worked for the hospital in the weeks before it closed are still waiting to hear when they’ll get their money.

Despite assuring everyone involved that there would be an agreement in place to ensure that those checks would be forthcoming, an attorney representing Bridge Healthcare Finance — the primary creditor in the case and the firm that controls whatever money is spent by the hospital — pulled back from those discussions, with the exception of finding about $20,000 for paying other lawyers involved in the case.

At a hearing in January, the lawyers from all sides reached an agreement that allowed the 200 or so workers to receive paychecks for the approximately two weeks between the hospital’s bankruptcy declaration and its closing. They also said they believed an agreement for employees to receive the money they worked for prior to the bankruptcy declaration would be forthcoming prior to Tuesday’s hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bernard Markovitz.

“This is fairly outrageous,” said Claudia Davidson, the lawyer for Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents most of the hospital’s hourly workers. “They could not get the language they wanted (in the agreement), so they took (the payroll funds) out.”

Leslie Bayles, the lawyer representing Bridge, said her clients wanted an agreement that would result in the payment of all the unsecured creditors, instead of focusing on a separate agreement for the hospital’s former workers.

Bayles also said that Davidson’s contention that Bridge was effectively running the show for the bankrupt hospital wasn’t accurate.

“Bridge has not chosen which employees were laid off and which were not,” she said. “And Bridge is not paying these claims — the debtor is paying them.”

Markovitz made it clear that he knew better, though, making several references to Bridge “controlling the checkbook” when it comes to Commonwealth budgets. And Robert Lampl, the hospital’s attorney, said that since the bankruptcy, the hospital has been unable to make any moves without Bridge’s approval.

“Every penny going out of (the hospital) is micromanaged by Bridge,” Lampl said.

Collectively, the workers are owed about $250,000, and Lampl said it’s likely that the workers will get their money at some point; Markovitz did not set a date for a subsequent hearing.

“We believed we had an agreement that would have put this issue to rest, but the secured creditor (Bridge) decided to go in another direction,” Lampl said. “Our preference would be to get them their money as soon as possible and alleviate the suffering they’ve been through.”

The extra time didn’t sit well with the workers who traveled to Pittsburgh for Tuesday’s hearing.

“They found money to pay the lawyers, and they still won’t pay us?” asked Hopewell Township resident Michelle Batchelor, who worked as an operating room nurse at the hospital. “It is outrageous that they would continue to string us out.”

OFFER ON THE TABLE

At Tuesday’s bankruptcy court hearing for Commonwealth Medical Center, an attorney for the hospital said officials there had received an offer for the hospital’s property.

Robert Lampl said, though, that the offer was “disappointing.”

Lampl would not discuss the potential buyer or the specifics of the proposed deal. He said it appeared that the bid was low.

“We’ve passed it on to the bank, and we’ll see what they say,” Lampl said.

Center Township developer Charles Betters said a week ago that he was considering making an offer for the hospital property. Betters could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Lampl said the hospital had spoken to two other possible buyers, although he characterized those inquiries as “casual.”

“The bid we received last week is the only one so far,” he said.

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