Community-University clinic plans for layoffs

The possible layoff will help the clinic pay back the loan it owes the University.

Karlee Weinmann

Supporters of the Community-University Health Care Center gathered at the site of the clinic in south Minneapolis Monday night to generate awareness of what they consider the clinic’s widespread impact on the communities it serves.

CUHCC clinic, which is part of the University’s Academic Health Center, has made plans to lay off the equivalent of 20 full-time employees to compensate for a $2.5 million loan repayment it owes to the University.

To reimburse the University for the interest-free loan, the clinic must cut $50,000 from its monthly budget.

The rally, organized by community members and labor union AFSCME, drew about 50 CUHCC advocates, including University students, CUHCC patients and clinic employees.

Representatives from the clinic met with members of legislature and the county commissioner to discuss the possibility of a fiscal alternative to personnel cuts, following suit with a measure approved by the clinic’s board at its last meeting.

The meeting, held Oct. 26, revealed no other revenue sources that could immediately alleviate the clinic’s budgetary concerns.

Deanna Mills, interim executive director of CUHCC, said it’s difficult to increase funding outside of the legislative session.

“There’s not any hidden money,” she said. “There isn’t any additional money coming in to prevent personnel relocation.”

Letters notifying employees of their release will be sent Nov. 1.

Mills said employees will be let go from across the clinic with no specific group of workers, like nurses or interpreters, singled out.

Despite widespread concerns about the clinic’s future following layoffs, Mills said the closure of CUHCC is not seen as imminent.

“Our intention is not at all to close,” she said.

Speakers at the rally called for the University to forgive the $2.5 million owed in the name of staying true to the University’s mission of providing community and public service.

State Representative Karen Clark-DFL, who has been a leading advocate of increasing state funds for public health through the clinic, said she disagrees with the University’s preferences in terms of funding.

“I want the University to get its priorities straight,” she said.

Clark referenced repeated visits from lobbyists on behalf of the University in efforts to win congressional support for a new football stadium.

“I think the University can absorb this ($2.5 million). That’s my challenge to them,” she said.

Gender studies sophomore Arnoldas Blumberg, from Lithuania, said he attended the rally because he can sympathize with the low-income and uninsured population the clinic serves.

“I’m an immigrant and when I came here, I didn’t have health insurance for a year and a half,” he said. “I totally can understand the importance of (CUHCC in serving the uninsured).”

Erika Zurawski, a global studies and Spanish senior, spoke at the rally.

“The University of Minnesota does not have its political priorities straight,” she said, calling for increased funding to the clinic and more scrutiny of University spending.

Barbara Bezat, president of AFSCME local 3937, has been involved in the attempts to stave off personnel cuts at the clinic.

“I think the Board (of Regents) needs to know about this,” she said.

Some AFSCME representatives at the rally said the Board of Regents has been contacted, while others said they will approach it with concerns in the near future.

A letter asking University President Robert Bruininks to consider alleviating the financial stress on the clinic through means other than layoffs was passed hand-to-hand at the rally, gathering signatures.

Though rally participants led chants criticizing the University’s management of the fiscal troubles at the clinic, Mills said the tension between union workers and the CUHCC board has lessened.

“Mostly, we’re sad that we’re going to lose some co-workers,” she said. “But when more money is spent than money brought in, you have to do something about that.”