Nurses Sound Bright Red Alarm, Picket at Hospital For Safe Patient Care

By Michael Monasky | November 16, 2014 About 300 registered nurses wearing bright, red T-shirts picketed outside the South Sacram...

By Michael Monasky | November 16, 2014

About 300 registered nurses wearing bright, red T-shirts picketed outside the South Sacramento Kaiser Hospital in the balmy mid-afternoon last Wednesday, carrying babies and walking children while holding picket signs and chanting, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, patient safety is our goal.” 

The demonstration was a repeat of the action held Tuesday, November 11, which was attended by about 400 nurses.

The California Nurses' Association (CNA) has been bargaining with Kaiser CEOs since July 2014, and claims to have brought 39 proposals to the table. Emergency room nurse Chelsea Robinson said that Kaiser has made no proposals. She said that nurses are not asking for more pay or benefits, just that Kaiser fill two thousand regional nursing vacancies.

Robinson reported that since enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, aka: ObamaCare) in 2010, Kaiser has enrolled 422,000 new members, while imposing mandatory 16 hour overtime shifts on the nursing staff. She said that Kaiser holds a $21 Billion surplus, having gained three billion in just the first three-quarters of 2014.

“Kaiser should invest the patient premiums back to the patients,” Robinson said. 

She added that, region-wide, Kaiser works nurses on 8, 10, and 12-hour shifts and that adding mandatory work time endangers patient safety.

CNA is seeking a resolution as soon as possible, hoping that Kaiser management show up, be on-time, and be prepared with proposals of their own, Robinson said.

A Tuesday news release from Kaiser's public affairs office stated that it was“...perplexed about why the nurses’ union is striking. The statement said further, “We have contingency plans in place and are operating with normal business hours and services. Some elective procedures and non-urgent appointments have been rescheduled, and we have reached out to our members to apologize for the inconvenience, and reschedule at their convenience.”

Kaiser has held that the surplus claimed by CNA is the total net worth of the organization, including all its hospitals and office buildings. However, Kaiser's online annual reports only make euphemistic reference to its operating revenues (about $53 Billion in 2013), and otherwise provide no financial details about real estate holdings and other asset descriptions.

Of the 2,000 nursing vacancies in the region alleged by CNA, Kaiser's regional media relations specialist, Chyresse Hill, wrote that Kaiser is “...actively hiring for open positions.”

It was unclear how many nurses walked off the job. A complete picture of Kaiser's income and assets is unknown since The Permanente Medical Group is a privately held corporation, and not required by law to reveal its books to the public.

Another perspective

A possible, left-field explanation comes from an excerpt from a White House transcript of a taped conversation between President Richard Nixon and Chief Domestic Advisor John D. Ehrlichman (1971) that led to the HMO act of 1973. These words are attributed to Ehrlichman: “Edgar Kaiser[,Jr.] is running his Permanente deal for profit. And the reason that he can...[a]ll the incentives are toward less medical care, because...the less care they give them, the more money they make.” President Nixon escaped impeachment by resignation. Ehrlichman became a convicted felon, imprisoned at Safford, Arizona Federal Correctional Institution 18 months for perjury and obstruction of justice.

A representative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation made a rather shocking revelation in a January 2014 radio show that the PPACA was the “last gasp of private health insurance.”

Diane Rehm, host: “So what about the insurers themselves, the insurance companies? What are they doing to prepare for this extraordinary [2014] rollout?”

Susan Dentzer, Senior Policy Advisor, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “Everything possible to make it work. The fundamental point, of course, is that the insurance industry supported the law because it saw this as the last gasp of private health insurance in this country. And so if this law doesn't work, it's not clear what comes after that.”

This episode of the Diane Rehm radio show includes remarks by Julie Appleby, Senior Correspondent, Kaiser Health News, (a subsidiary of the Kaiser Family Foundation), who did not contradict Dentzer's statement.

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