Some 4,500 registered nurses at 10 Sutter Health hospitals – 2,000 from Alta Bates and Summit alone – plan to walk off the job today to protest “sweeping concessions” demanded by the chain and more than 100 service cuts which they say endanger patient care.
The reductions keep coming although the company has been "making over $4 billion in profits since 2007, and handing its chief executive Pat Fry at 215 percent pay hike to over $4 million a year,” says a statement from the California Nurses Association.
The nurses say the Sacramento-based Sutter Health has already slashed services, including breast cancer screenings for women with disabilities, bone marrow transplants, cardiac catheter lab services, and in-patient psychiatric services for adolescents and adults. The pulmonary subacute unit at the Herrick campus is slated to close in June.
Other hospitals in the chain have lost dialysis, skilled nursing, acute rehabilitation and specialized pediatric care. Sutter is expected to close San Leandro Hospital in May.
“Some days I have to remind myself why I became a nurse,” said nurse Beth Sherry, who began at Alta Bates in 2006 in the ICU and now works in labor and delivery. “It’s all about crunching numbers. The IV bags are cheap and thin now. It’s easy to put a hole in them.”
In a prepared statement, Sutter Health spokesmen accused the nurses of refusing “to partner in efforts to reduce costs for patients.
“Our goal is to balance the need to reduce costs for patients while also continuing to provide our nurses with wages and benefits that are not only competitive, but at the top of the industry for our region.”
But costs to patients can only be reduced so far without posing a danger, Sherry said. Without a cardiac catheter lab at Alta Bates, “let's say you're in the stadium at UC and you have a heart attack,” she said. “Now, you have to go to Summit. With a cardiac event, every minute counts.”
Sutter reported net income of $635 million on revenue of $9.1 billion in 2011, although the company’s own financial statement shows it sustained investment losses from 2010 to 2011.
Sutter began life in 1989 as a single hospital. Later, it added a maternity hospital. Today, it has acquired more than a third of the market in the 11-county region through more than 20 hospital takeovers in the last 30 years, according to a Bloomberg magazine report.
On average, the proposed takeaways would reduce pay and benefits by 30 percent, said Eric Koch, a member of the negotiating team. The nurses have been working without a contract for a year.
Talks have dragged on for more than 500 hours over 43 sessions, “and the Sutter team has budged very little from their stand,” he said.
Alta Bates management say they have negotiated in good faith, at one point presenting more than 14 “modified proposals” to reach a settlement.
The strike will encompass Alta Bates Summit Medical Center hospitals in Berkeley and Oakland; Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo; Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley; San Leandro Hospital; Sutter Delta in Antioch; Sutter Solano in Vallejo; Novato Community Hospital and Sutter Lakeside in Lakeport.
Sutter Health released a statement assuring the public that quality of care would not suffer during the one-day strike.
“Alta Bates Summit Medical Center is prepared to deliver high quality care as we have for more than a century,” a statement says.
“The medical center is deeply disappointed that a strike could not be avoided and that CNA is calling yet another strike against our hospital. This is the third strike the union has called since September, and CNA has called more than 150 strikes against California hospitals in the last four years.”
In a letter to Sutter CEO Pat Fry, union officials said they would call off the strike if the company calls off its demand for “more than 100 concessions.”
“The hospital portrays the nurses as high rollers who are swilling in cash,” Koch said. “I’m the nurse you see at the hospital when you need your heart monitored, and you’re having chest pain, or you have an infection that is too far along. I rent an apartment in Oakland with my wife and daughter. I’m not a high roller.”