Nine hospitals targeted by three-day strike
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – As many as 2,300 health care workers walked off the job Monday at nine Northern California hospitals, while the state’s attorney general listened to hearings about whether their employer should be allowed to join the city’s largest charitable care hospital.
The walkout, scheduled to last three days, is the seventh such action in recent months aimed at Sutter Health. Members of Health Care Workers Union Local 250 of the Service Employees International Union say they’re tired of understaffing and a lack of input.
The goal is to create staffing committees made up of union members and management to give workers more of a say in staffing levels and decisions made at Sutter Health-owned hospitals, according to union officials.
Lillie Mitchell, a 16-year veteran of California Pacific Medical, stood in front of City Hall on Monday holding a union banner that said ”Health Care For All.” As an environmental services worker, it’s up to her to keep patients’ rooms clean, but she says that’s impossible to do when she’s forced to clean 27 rooms a day.
”Hotel workers only have 14 (rooms to clean). We can’t keep up the pace since Sutter came into the picture,” she said. ”They don’t care about patients. They just fret about money.”
Mitchell said she also can’t afford to get sick because there’s no one to cover for her, meaning untrained workers will do her job and potentially endanger patients.
”In oncology, you can’t use certain chemicals or it can cause respiratory problems,” she said. ”People aren’t getting trained, and the senior people don’t have time. They’re carrying too heavy of a workload.”
California Pacific Medical Center spokeswoman Ann Mosher said the hospital proposed a solution that Local 250 accepted at other East Bay hospitals.
Local 250 spokesman Dave Bates said the offer the medical center proposed was different and unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Sutter is attempting to affiliate with St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District. As San Francisco’s last independent full-service hospital, St. Luke’s provides more care to indigent patients than all other private hospitals in the city.
Opponents said they fear such a move would force poor, uninsured patients into San Francisco General Hospital, placing more responsibility on taxpayers.
”St. Luke’s Hospital is in my neighborhood. No one is turned away,” said city Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano. ”Hospitals are a place to heal. Hospitals are a place to take care of people. Hospitals are not a numbers racket.”
Ammiano said it’s important for St. Luke’s to continue its 130-year practice of operating as a community hospital. He fears if Attorney General Bill Lockyer approves the affiliation, the 40 percent of St. Luke’s patients who fall beneath the federal poverty line will be shut out.
But St. Luke’s CEO Jack Fries said the union is unjustly using his hospital as a negotiating tactic to bring public attention to their complaints against Sutter.
”They can’t get what they want through one-day strikes, so this is an additional tactic to use to increase the pressure on Sutter and convince the public it’s not good,” Fries said. ”Unless you’re on the board, that’s power you don’t have. But if you’re in the union town and you’re a strong union you can get that right.”
Fries said the affiliation with Sutter would not change the amount of charitable care. He said the board would remain the same, with the addition of two Sutter members.
San Francisco Public Health Director Mitch Katz said the city’s public health system is willing to come to cash-strapped St. Luke’s rescue. Katz said he’s willing to consider everything from an affiliation to a partnership.
Striking hospitals include San Francisco’s three California Pacific Medical Center campuses, Alta Bates Medical Center and the Alta Bates Herrick campus in Berkeley, Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo and Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport.
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