Care clash - Page 3

UC hospital workers allege unsafe working conditions

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A flyer addressing UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret -- the text reads "Layoffs Hurt Patient Care and Families"
POSTER DESIGN BY SETH NEWTON PATEL

Meanwhile, ASCFME's report has raised eyebrows in the California Senate. Sen. Ed Hernandez, who represents part of Los Angeles County and chairs the Senate Health Committee, "has expressed an interest in looking at it further," according to committee consultant Vincent Marchand. "We may decide to call a hearing" sometime in May to see if further action is warranted, he added.

Sen. Yee lambasted the UC system for what he called "blatant disregard for the working staff." Yee said the layoffs raised concerns about the quality of patient care, saying, "How do you lay off 300 individuals and think that it's not going to compromise patient care?"

Yee added that he thought the UC budget ought to be scrutinized when it goes before the Senate. "Although the Constitution gives the UCs of California tremendous autonomy via the Board of Regents, ultimately we in the Legislature still allocate dollars ... so there is a legislative and moral responsibility that we need to exercise," he said. "Are the dollars within UC being used appropriately to take care of patients and in ensuring their safety?"

CONSTRUCTION, COMPENSATION AND VIPS

In early 2015, UCSF will open its new Mission Bay complex, a 289-bed facility featuring a children's hospital with an urgent/emergency care unit and an adult care unit for cancer patients. The estimated price tag for the project is about $1.5 billion, and construction costs associated the project were referenced in an Oct. 12 letter Laret, UCSF's CEO, issued to hospital staff announcing the pending staffing cuts.

Thrush questions decisions made at the highest administrative levels. Laret is "eliminating 300 jobs, and we're opening a new facility, and he's getting a $300,000 bonus," he said, referring to a "retention bonus" expected to be awarded this year, which could be followed by a $400,000 bonus in 2014. "Why is he getting a huge bonus if we're having to lay off so much staff?"

With a total compensation of around $1.2 million in 2011, Laret's salary seems excessive in comparison with that of frontline workers — and it is. At the same time, it seems to be within the realm of a CEO of a major medical facility, a quick Internet search reveals.

ACSFME's report targets Laret specifically, saying he repeatedly emphasized to hospital staff, "When you see patients, you should see dollar signs." Johnson, the MRI technician, told the Guardian he heard Laret make this statement years ago, when he first came on as CEO. "I know that some physicians were outraged by it," he said. "I heard that the physicians told him to stop, and he stopped saying it." UCSF did not respond to Guardian requests for a comment on this allegation.

The report also focuses on a practice of so-called "VIPs" — patients connected with the UC Regents or other influential persons — receiving preferential care. "I got called in on a Sunday to take care of a celebrity, because they had a headache," said Johnson. "I've seen patients have to be on hold so we can scan the [VIPs]. They definitely get preference. I've been told, if one of those VIPs comes in, we have to get them on the scanner." UCSF didn't respond to Guardian questions concerning VIP patient treatment, either.

LABOR DISPUTE

Montiel, the media relations director for the UC system, responded to a Guardian query with a wholesale rejection of the detailed 40-page report, without directly addressing any of the allegations. Instead, he said the whole controversy arose from a labor rift over pension reform.

"These claims by AFSCME coincide with a bargaining impasse, and the scheduling of a strike vote by its patient care technical workers," Montiel wrote in an email. "Quality of care is not the issue. The real issue is pension reform. AFSCME has resisted pension reforms that eight unions representing 14 other UC bargaining units have agreed to. The reforms also apply to UC faculty and staff not in unions."

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