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UCI Medical Center Patient Care Worker Strike Day Two: "We're Taking Care of the Patients We Need to Take Care Of:" Update

See Update No. 2 on page 2 about employee absenteeism being up significantly but surgeries only being slightly down, with UCI Medical Center officials vowing, "We're taking care of the patients we need to take care of." Update No. 1 on the next page has UC official claiming the two-day strike of patient care workers will cost $20 million, the union countering with examples of UC waste and deficiencies, and UCI Medical Center saying 70 surgeries were rescheduled due to the work stoppage.

ORIGINAL POST, MAY 20, 10:32 A.M.: Today, a Sacramento County judge will decide how many patient care workers can participate in strikes against the University of California's five medical centers.

Tomorrow, expect to see picketers outside UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) previously announced 13,000 patient care technical workers from the UC's $6.9 billion medical system would start taking strike votes April 30.

UCI Medical Center Workers Prepare for Strike Vote; UC Says Union Ducking Pension Reform

The labor agreement between UC and its patient care assistants, vocational nurses and radiology technicians expired on Sept. 30. Talks reached an impasse as AFSCME claims members are being asked "to subsidize chronic understaffing, growing management bloat and unprecedented executive excess ... something we simply will not do."

But the UC accuses AFSCME 3299 of refusing to agree to pension reform that started in 2010 and brought about changes 14 other bargaining units and non-union staff have agreed to.

As some are front-line medical workers, a judge is expected to rule today on a temporary restraining order to limit how many employees can take part in the strike. The union plans a two-day strike beginning Tuesday.

UPDATE NO. 1, MAY 21, 8:39 A.M.: John Stobo, the University of California's vice president of Health Services, says the two-day strike that began this morning at five UC medical centers, including UCI's in Orange, will cost the system $20 million. It will also cost UCI Medical Center 70 surgeries that had been scheduled for today and tomorrow. Those surgeries have been rescheduled due to the strike, officials said.

The union responded by pointing out Stobo and 35 other UC executives threatened to sue two years ago if the system's top administrators were not granted millions of dollars in additional pension benefits.

About 1,700 technical care workers were joining in the strike at UCI Medical Center, which brought in about 400 replacements, John Murray, a UCI health services spokesman, tells City News Service.

The university made arrangements to get replacement workers to their posts without having to encounter demonstrators, Murray added. They will not be replacing workers who operate some of the most complex equipment, such as respiratory therapists or in the neo-natal unit, and are barred from walking the picket lines.

Besides rescheduling surgeries, UCI is limiting the number of transfers from other area hospitals unless the patients require a higher-level of care from specialists such as in the field of brain trauma, Murray said. Ambulances for less serious cases will be diverted to other nearby trauma centers such as Western Medical Center in Santa Ana or Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, although anyone who walks or drives to UCI Medical Center will be treated, no matter what, Murray vowed.

As part of the back-and-forth volleys, AFSCME 3299 released a report "documenting how UC is regularly diverting such sums into non-patient care expenditures, and outlined the frontline care investments that could be made with those resources if UC would simply make them a priority."

And, as is par for the course during contract impasses involving healthcare workers, the union is shedding light on documented problems with patient care. It's funny how you only hear about these hospital horrors around strike time. (See every strike or threatened strike involving Kaiser nurses.) Well, not ha-ha funny.

The report includes: a $1.2 Million dollar federal whistleblower settlement charging patient neglect at UC Irvine Medical Center; UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center receiving its second substandard patient safety rating from a leading health buyer's group in as many years; Stobo telling a group of UC executives on May 3 that the system's clinical care services need improvement, citing lagging patient satisfaction and patient outcomes; and the elimination of 300 jobs at UC San Francisco Medical Center---including the lift and turn teams, nursing staff and pharmacy technicians.

"When it comes to patient care, John Stobo is speaking out of both sides of his mouth," AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger says in a union statement. "One day, he's threatening to sue the University if they don't divert more patient care resources into his already bulging pockets. The next day, he's sounding alarms about declining patient care quality in front of a room full of Medical Center Executives, and attacking frontline providers for standing up to chronic understaffing and reckless cost cutting. UC could take important steps to arrest the growing patient safety risks afflicting its Medical Centers by focusing the resources they are spending on replacement workers, lawyers, and their PR machine on safe staffing and fairness to frontline care providers systemwide. The question is, why won't they?"

A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Monday exempted certain employees who provide respiratory therapy in the NICU, PICU and Burn Units from participating in the strike. About 100 patient care technical employees will be required to work both days. The UC had sought an injunction to block more than 13,000 patient technical workers and more than 2,000 hospital service workers from striking.
 
UPDATE NO. 2, MAY 22, 9:49 A.M.: John Murray, UCI Medical Center's manager of healthcare media relations, reports the Orange hospital treated about 300 patients Tuesday or "slightly below what we usually have in the middle of the week.'' He pegged the average at about 320 to 330 patients.

About 1,200 unionized workers were scheduled to work the day shift at the hospital and outpatient offices Tuesday, and about 790 reported to work, approximately 66 percent, Murray told City News Service. UCI had to reschedule 75 operations, but performed about 24 Tuesday, below the average of 36 to 40, he said.

"The upshot is we're taking care of the patients we need to take care of,'' Murray reportedly said.

AFSCME 3299 announced this morning the strike continues at UC Irvine Medical Center, 101 The City Drive South, Orange, with rallies at 12:30 and 6 p.m. today. Similar actions are taking place at the University of California's four other medical center campuses. The union accuses the UC of failing to negotiate in good faith since the current contract expired last September and of limiting worker salaries while earning millions in profits.

Administrators claim they have offered workers a fair wage and benefit proposal, saying the sticking points in negotiations are pension contributions, which would increase for employees from 5 percent to 6.5 percent in the most recent talks; a new tier of pension benefits for workers hired on or after July 1; and revised eligibility rules for retiree health benefits.

The latest four-year contract offer includes wage increases of up to 3.5 percent per year over the life of the deal, according to the UC.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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