‘Someone will call you’: Hahnemann employees report obstacles in finding new work

Stephanie Burton (right) of the Dialysis Center of Philadelphia, recruits nurses during the Hire Hahnemann career fair put on by Philadelphia Works at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Stephanie Burton (right) of the Dialysis Center of Philadelphia, recruits nurses during the Hire Hahnemann career fair put on by Philadelphia Works at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Doris Little, a certified nursing assistant, had her final shift at Hahnemann University Hospital Wednesday, after 18 years.

Though Little will be getting a paycheck until the end of August, she’s already been on the job hunt for several weeks, attending a handful of job fairs at the hospital.

“They was basically just taking applications and resumes and saying, ‘Someone will call you,’” Little said. No one had, as of Thursday.

Despite her frustration, and fear that her savings will run out soon after her final paycheck, Little was upbeat at a “Hire Hahnemann” job fair Thursday that brought about 190 employers to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

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“One person took my application and said they will be giving me a call for an interview, and I’m pretty sure of that one,” she said.

At the end of June, Hahnemann announced plans to close its 495-bed hospital and leave more than 2,500 people out of work by September. Its owner, Philadelphia Academic Health System, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy shortly afterward, and proceedings are underway in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington.

Despite protests to save the safety-net hospital, hundreds of employees are moving forward looking for new work.

Patrick Clancy, president and CEO of Philadelphia Works, one of the job fair’s organizers, was also optimistic the fair could help Hahnemann employees find new work.

“Today is the first step in trying to help people think through options,” Clancy said, touting the 400,000 health care jobs in the Camden-Philadelphia-Wilmington region. “This is a day of hope.”

Patrick Clancy of Philadelphia Works and Mayor Jim Kenney describe their efforts to find work for Hahnemann Hospital workers during a job fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Still, Clancy said he didn’t know whether employers were expediting the hiring process for the Hahnemann workers, though his assumption was employers were at the fair because of the quality candidates coming from the hospital.

“And if they have talent at Hahnemann, they’re going to expedite them,” he said.

Non-nursing staff in a bind

Yet some of the workers weren’t as optimistic Thursday.

Edwina Snell, who works in finance at the hospital, looked at all the employers at the Convention Center and said, “Some people are going to luck up.”

She was less convinced about finding something for herself after 30 years at Hahnemann.

Edwina Snell, who worked in the Hahnemann Hospital finance department for 30 years, hands out resumes at a job fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Support staffers who worked in housekeeping or dietary services seemed even more dismayed as they scanned the rows of recruiters looking for nurses.

Because of the length of their employment and union status, some cooks and housekeepers make well above $20 an hour. Those who had been with the hospital for decades earn close to $30 an hour.

Some of the options on offer at the Convention Center couldn’t go near that rate.

If an employee were to make the switch to a hotel like the Philadelphia 201, that person would  be starting at $15 in a union job in housekeeping or guest services.

At a hotel like the Hampton Inn, a union job would pay a couple of dollars less.

“The reality,” Clancy said, “is that sometimes positions pay more than what the market bears when you’re a union worker.”

The reality, he said, is that some Hahnemann employees will have to take pay cuts and try to work their way up to their previous wages, or they can train up.

“If they want to switch career fields or look at other options, we can work with them on trying to look at different training programs,” Clancy said.

Holding out hope

“The last time I looked for a job, I was 17 years old,” said Marvin Edmonds, a chef at Hahnemann. “I’m 54 now.”

He said cooking is his passion, but that he’s open to taking any job that pays close to his current wage, which is above the minimum wage.

If the job fair doesn’t bear fruit, Edmonds can get linked to other potential employers through Philadelphia Works or his union, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, District 1199C.

Meanwhile, Chris Woods, executive vice president of the union, said that he’s not giving up hope that something can be done to keep Hahnemann open. Meanwhile he’s bargaining to get as many benefits as possible for his members.

“When you’re talking about an employer who’s filing for bankruptcy, I don’t know how successful we will be in being able to get those folks to pay some severance, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try,” Woods said.

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