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Layoff Strikes Medical Center Social Worker Twice

MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – When Patrizia Perugini recently learned that Westchester Medical Center was about to lay off staff and privatize its mental health services, she got a sinking feeling that was far too familiar.

“I was so upset because 18 months ago the same exact thing happened at the Westchester County Jail and I lost my job,” Perugini said.

Perugini, 37, of Ossining, is a licensed social worker at the Behavioral Health Center at Westchester Medical Center.  She had worked as an inmate care social worker for 10 years at the Westchester County Jail through an agreement with the medical center before losing her job in July 2010 after County Executive Rob Astorino agreed to privatize the staff.  Due to her seniority, Perugini was able to take her current social worker position in the Behavioral Health Center.  This past Friday, Perugini learned that she will once again be laid off as the medical center agreed to privatize the Behavioral Health Center through a partnership with Liberty Healthcare Corporation.

Perugini and the other 149 employees who will be laid off by March 1 will have the chance to apply for similar positions in the Behavioral Health Center, but this time as an employee of Liberty Healthcare.  However, Perugini, a single mother of a 2-year-old boy, said she is done with the Westchester Medical Center.

“I won’t be applying for another position at the medical center,” Perugini said.  “These private companies, it’s been my experience in the field that their main concern is not the patients, it’s making money.”

If Perugini accepted a social worker position at the center under Liberty Healthcare, her annual salary would be reduced from $81,000 to $65,000 and she would be required to contribute a much larger portion to her health benefits.  Perugini said she believes she and the other workers in the Behavioral Health Center have done nothing to deserve this treatment.

“I feel that we’ve been treated very badly with these layoffs because we’ve worked during holidays and snowstorms, we’ve worked extra hours if there was some sort of emergency,” Perugini said.  “Our main concern has always been the patients.”

Westchester Medical Center CEO Michael Israel released a statement late last week that said the agreement to partner with Liberty Healthcare will, “better position WMC to deal with a challenging fiscal situation caused by various factors, including reduced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.”  The medical center said the agreement will save them $4 million annually.

Perugini said she is currently sending her resume out to apply for social worker positions in the greater Westchester area and is optimistic that she will obtain one in the near future.

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