UC Irvine Medical Center workers in Orange are still tense a week after the start of a massive layoff of 175 positions. Dr. Howard Federoff, CEO of UC Irvine Health, delivered a statement on the "Operational Transformation," as the staff slash retooling is being deemed, promising town halls to address the decision. Medical center workers packed an auditorium on-site yesterday afternoon, ready to hear what the head honcho had to say.
"We took an action that has had, in the minds of many, a negative impact on how we are perceived as a community," Federoff said. "I feel terrible because we have had to let go a small number of individuals, 175 who had been at this medical center and contributed to its success." Federoff explained that back in 2010, the Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—called on states to decided whether to expand Medicaid and that California is one that followed through.
UCI Medical Center is the only academic facility of its kind in OC and since there are no county hospitals, they must take in Medicare patients that don't generate revenue. Taking on the role of the Great Explainer, Federoff continued that UC Irvine Medical Center faced competition from community hospitals that didn't have any teaching and training responsibilities to usher in the next generation of clinicians. UC San Diego was invoked for reasons of comparison on how UC Irvine Medical Center could be more financially efficient.
After a commissioned study, expenses had been charted to exceed revenues at the end of the 2017 fiscal year and to avoid that fate, administration called in the cutbacks. "It was in the framework of leaving no stone unturned, [that] we turned, finally, to the most challenging and difficult part of this analysis, which was to look at the labor component of our institution," Federoff continued. "I can tell you without any equivocation that it was absolutely essential for our future to do this." Flanked by two blue banners showing UC Irvine Medical Center having an "A" rating for best hospital safety score and 90 percent patient satisfaction, Federoff stressed the necessity to maintain quality care.
The CEO, who was brought in this January, admitted that administration needed to improve on communication regarding the layoffs. Sensing the anxieties in the room, he opened up the town hall to questions from the audience. "I know that the next 45 minutes or so is going to be really quite interesting," he said. The audience nervously chuckled.
Union workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 asked tough questions about how a smaller, overworked staff could provide the best care to its patients. Federoff adjusted by asking people to identify themselves and where they work, eliciting laughter from the crowd who saw through the comment.
"Earlier you said 175 layoffs is a small amount, and that offends me," said Monica De Leon, a medical center worker who's Vice President of the union's Patient Care Technical (PCT) unit. She was critical of the attempt to model UCI Medical Center after its San Diego counterpart, citing a psychiatric patient death there due to short staffing. "That's probably where we're heading, too."
An AFSCME 3299 flyer circulated around the medical center reading, "While Workers Are Laid Off, CEO is Paid Off," in bold-type above a picture of Federoff. The union argues that UCI Medical Center has posted $130 million in profits the last two years. And while 100 front-line patient care workers are among those getting the axe, Federoff rakes in a base salary of $800,000. The criticism echoed at the town hall.
"I keep hearing, we want to put the blame on Obamacare, Medicare, on our pensions, [but] I doubt that any of the people sitting down are making over $200,000," said a woman named Maritza. "The real issue here is the bloated salaries that these CEOs have come into all these hospitals gaining. I would have assumed you would have started with your own salary."
The comment from the auditorium gained applause and unnerved Federoff. "You already have a point of view, and I respect you for that point of view but it's not so well informed," Federoff said, scoldingly. "We're happy to have more dialogue about this, but when you stand up and share something that is factually not true, you create this bias."
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"They're all facts!" she shot back.
"They're all facts? Okay, I'm glad you're well-informed, thank you," Federoff replied dismissively.
The CEO never directly addressed the issue of his own pay. "The CEOs, like Federoff, get six-figure bonuses meeting certain profit targets," Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for AFSCME 3299 tells the Weekly. "What it really comes down to is priorities of serving patients or turning profits. For a publicly funded non-profit hospital, it should be clear."
A statewide action by the union against the staff cutbacks is planned for next Tuesday at UCI Medical Center.