Hospital leaders announced Wednesday that as many as 620 full-time jobs could be eliminated by the end of the year if officials and unions can't reach cost-saving agreements.
"This is their hammer they said they were going to use," said Sam Caquias, a trauma center nurse and local bargaining unit president for the New York State Nurses Association. "It's not a hammer toward the nurses; it's a hammer on the patients."
Officials said they are determined to balance the budget, while unions argued that more layoffs will harm patient care.
"If we pretend that times haven't changed and we don't make these cuts, at some point in time we will not have the money to pay our employees," said Mark Tulis, chairman of the hospital's board of directors, adding that union negotiations could limit the number of layoffs.
About 50 registered nurses gathered outside the medical center Thursday to denounce the proposed reductions, which include 250 from their ranks.
Medical center nurses are working under an expired contract and have been in talks with officials since last year.
The union has offered cost-saving plans, but leaders have rejected them, Caquias said.
The proposed layoffs also include 20 manager and assistant jobs and 350 Civil Service Employee Association positions. The CSEA includes employees such as physician assistants, maintenance workers and record clerks.
Officials have said the hospital is struggling with skyrocketing pension payments that will eventually reach $70 million and coping with $100 million in lost annual revenue.
Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements have dropped, and the medical center no longer receives financial support from the county.
Union officials have criticized hospital administrators' pay as part of the problem, but Tulis credited managers for turning the medical center around.
"When we reached a financial crisis in 2003, we brought the best in to run the hospital," he said. "We went from an $83 million deficit to today, where we've basically balanced our budget every year."
The real problem, he contended, is much bigger.
"If you throw all the administrator salaries together, it won't even come close to dealing with the increase (from $18 million to $70 million) for the New York state pension system," Tulis said.