Fired AVH employee: Handbook changed | AspenTimes.com
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Fired AVH employee: Handbook changed

A former employee of Aspen Valley Hospital who was one of 34 workers fired in April said hospital management made key changes to the employee handbook just weeks before the layoffs occurred.Cathy Zimmer, a 13-year employee who managed AVH’s satellite physical therapy clinic at the Aspen Athletic Club at the time of her dismissal, said hospital management, with the approval of the hospital board, made alterations to the employee handbook 21 days before the terminations occurred.When she was laid off, Zimmer was given two weeks of severance pay. Under guidelines in the previous employee handbook, she would have received 12 weeks’ pay.On April 14, dealing with a financial crisis that included nearly $7.5 million in losses, the hospital slashed 11 percent of its work force. Zimmer was told of her termination a week after the en masse layoffs, when she returned from a trip to mourn the unexpected death of her 46-year-old brother.Zimmer said the alterations were legal and did not breach contract, but were against the values of a community institution.”I’m speaking out because of my conscience, for all hospital employees. Agreements need to be honored. I want to see the hospital move forward, but in order for that to happen employees need to be able to trust the hospital’s agreements,” Zimmer said. Zimmer made a statement of protest before the public hospital board meeting last night. She did not go into complaints regarding the handbook alterations, but her public statement could confirm speculation that many fired employees felt unfairly treated. On the day of the layoffs, three employees made similar accusations as Zimmer to The Aspen Times, but refused to be quoted on the record.”I thought the hospital had a reasonable severance package,” Zimmer told the board last night. “It turned out [I] couldn’t count on the hospital.”Newly elected board member Barry Mink expressed concern over Zimmer’s situation, and the handling of the layoffs as a whole. He circulated a letter to the other board members from Zimmer that contained many of her concerns and told the board he wanted the issue looked into.He directed interim CEO Bob Karp, under whose leadership the layoffs occurred, to explain the procedure of the firings to the newly elected board members. The other board members echoed Mink’s sentiments.”Since I have been on the job, this is the number one issue I’ve dealt with,” Mink said. “It seems to me employees over 10 years deserve special consideration.””Sounds like there should be a follow-up session,” board President John Sarpa followed.At the meeting, the hospital’s nurse council also publicly complained about the firings, particularly the termination of Charles Halloway, the longtime supervisor of hospital maintenance.”Charles’ termination has left a gaping wound in the morale of this hospital,” nurse council representative Barbara Graves said.Karp said he would meet privately with any concerned parties about the details of the firings. He said a public meeting was not an appropriate forum for such discussion, but promised to be available for private appointments.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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