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03
Mon, Oct

That Pound of Flesh?

ACCORDING TO LIZ - “There were only two people working in patient registration… I saw a lady sitting across from me crying, and she was sitting in a puddle of her own blood. She miscarried in the waiting room.” 

Private healthcare organizations who pay their executive millions of dollars are calling out Los Angeles for approving an increased minimum wage for their employees, workers on which our healthcare really relies. 

A flyer recently received by many Angelenos documents that Kaiser CEO Greg Adams makes $17.3 million, while Cedars-Sinai CEO Tom Priselec makes only $5.7 million. Dignity Healthcare CEO Lloyd Dean pulls down $16.7 million and Providence CEO Rod Hochman gets by on $9.7 million. 

In response to the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West collecting enough signatures to put a $25-an-hour minimum wage for their members on the November ballot, the Los Angeles City Council elected instead to adopt the union’s proposal outright. As is its right. 

This works out to $1,000 floor in gross income for a 40-hour work week for the private sector healthcare employees who work in hospitals, integrated health systems and dialysis clinics in the City of Los Angeles. 

Not so extravagant given the living wage in California has now drifted north of $40 an hour. 

And that our healthcare workers performed and continue to perform heroic services during the pandemic. 

And that Kaiser’s CEO makes a measly $8,500 per hour from our health “care” dollars for sitting in an office far from frontline medical care on which Angelenos are dependent. 

So last month, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and its hospitals, Dignity Health and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems issued a statement castigating our City Council for its “hasty adoption of this inequitable measure” as being unfair for workers, costly for patients and risky for Los Angeles. 

Say what? 

For once, our relentlessly progressive Councilmembers opted to do the right thing as well as burnish their ‘woke’ credentials and, at least this time, the consequences will help all residents without tearing holes in the City budget. 

Nine other cities in SoCal where the SEIU is trying to place a proposition on November ballots to increase their members’ base hourly rate to $25 need to follow the example of Los Angeles. 

Like so many businesses in the wake of the pandemic, the healthcare industry is in desperate need to fill empty positions. 

A survey of more than 33,000 SEIU-UHW members from March 14th through April 22nd found that:

  • 83% of healthcare workers report their facility is understaffed
    74% lack adequate time to properly care for their patients
  • 41% feel pushed to ignore safety protocols
  • 47% feel the need to skip their breaks
  • 48% would hesitate to take family members for care where they work
  • 65% said they were aware of patient care being delayed or denied as a result of short staffing 

Nurses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center staged a one-day strike in June to protest lack of staffing and supplies which was endangering the wellbeing and care of their patients. 

Lack of support staffing has led to delays in emergency room check-ins and difficulty in getting appointments, 

Not good. These are the professionals on whom we rely on when we are sick or injured. 

Filling positions should be easier with the offer of better compensation. Since the shortage exists everywhere, California stands to lose healthcare workers to jurisdictions that pay more and where it costs less to live. 

So doesn’t it seem just a tad ingenuous that overpaid executives are now exhorting southern Californians to “Join the Coalition” opposed to any pay increase for healthcare workers, and consent to receiving “autodialed calls/texts” claiming the SEIU’s signature drive to increase wages in ten southern California jurisdictions is unfair. 

Unfair to whom? 

Yes, it excludes janitors, housekeepers, security guards and other non-medical workers at the same facilities but, given these same companies are reporting record profits, there is a very simple solution that they can do themselves. 

Raise all their workers’ wages. 

As our world has emerged from the pandemic, people are back to seeking basic and preventive care. That the healthcare monopolies have cut services to the bone to benefit their bottom lines is abhorrent. 

Raising wages and increasing staffing may take money out of the pockets of companies and investors. But can we, as human beings, go on allowing our fellow Californians to suffer and die for Wall Street profit? 

Protecting public health should be paramount and Los Angeles has moved correctly to address another healthcare crisis that puts our city at risk.

Until the United States can join developed nations in providing health care for all as a right, it must be provided as a service but it should not be dedicated to increasing profits for corporate honchos at the expense of ordinary Angelenos. 

Corporate healthcare honchos may demand their pound of flesh in payment but, as Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” so eloquently puts it, that pound cannot be allowed to include any blood.

 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)

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