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Greenbrier lays off 25 employees

Greenbrier Hospital laid off 25 of its 125 employees Friday, one week after the psychiatric hospital was placed under control of a court-ordered receiver for not paying creditors.

Layoffs occurred "across the board" at the hospital, said Betty Whitehouse, Greenbrier's director of senior services and spokeswoman. Jobs were cut in administration, dietary, housekeeping and other departments, Whitehouse said. A few mental health specialists, who work with patients, also were laid off.

"Our focus was on keeping enough staff to maintain quality care," said Whitehouse, who came to work at Greenbrier only a few months ago. The 50-bed hospital has closed its south unit and has moved patients and staff into its north unit. The hospital expects to cut the number of beds it uses almost in half, to around 28, Whitehouse said.

While the hospital will be forced to cut back on the number of patients it serves, Whitehouse stressed that Greenbrier will continue to accept Baker Act patients. Patients admitted under the Baker Act are generally considered dangerous to themselves or others.

Employees laid off Friday were told they will be among the first rehired if or when the hospital is purchased by another company, Whitehouse said.

"They will be the first ones called," she said. "Even though this is always very difficult, I think (management) handled this as well as it can be handled."

Outside companies have begun to investigate buying Greenbrier, Whitehouse said. That possibility would be welcomed by county officials, who said it is important that Hernando County keeps its own in-patient psychiatric hospital. Greenbrier has historically provided psychiatric services to residents on behalf of the county on a contract basis.

"It's important to have local psychiatric services to Hernando County," County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson said. If the hospital closed, Hernando patients most likely would be transported to treatment centers in Pasco County. The county's only other psychiatric hospital, Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute, offers only out-patient services.

Last week, Circuit Judge William Law Jr. placed Greenbrier under the receivership, or control, of Charles Kenner, a Tampa-based asset manager. The action was taken at the request of First Union National Bank, Greenbrier's largest creditor. A company is placed in receivership when a judge agrees that the company is failing and its creditors are in danger of losing their investments.

According to court filings, First Union asked that Greenbrier be placed under control of the court because of the hospital's continued financial troubles. According to First Union, the hospital had a net operating loss of $65,000 in March, bringing the total loss for the year to more than $530,000.

Greenbrier has been under financial duress for several years. The hospital's former owner filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995. In November, Greenbrier was able to emerge from bankruptcy after it was purchased by IAMEC Funding Inc., a Tampa-based company headed by Robert Aldridge.

Soon after that, however, ownership of IAMEC was called into question. While confusion reigned over the question of who owned and controlled IAMEC, Greenbrier failed to pay its April bond payment, its 1997 real estate taxes and other fees, according to the filings made by First Union.

Aldridge could not be reached for comment Friday. Kenner declined to comment on plans for Greenbrier.