Centinela Hospital employees: Hurt by healthcare policies?
Company under fire for questionable practices
In response to mounting community concern, leaders and residents throughout Los Angeles took action to demand that Prime Healthcare Services, which operates Centinela Hospital Medical Center and 13 other facilities in California, stop profiting at the expense of patients’ health, caregivers and the community.
At a demonstration in front of Centinela recently targeting Prime Healthcare management, residents and community leaders—including Inglewood City Councilman Ralph Franklin—delivered a letter signed by hundreds of community members condemning Prime’s failure to deliver quality care to patients and living wages and benefits, particularly healthcare benefits, to caregivers, including members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).
One of the largest for-profit healthcare chains in California, Prime has come under fire for its business practices. As reported Oct. 12 in the Los Angeles Times, Prime is being investigated by state and federal authorities for an unusually high rate of life-threatening infections among its older patients.
This month at Centinela Hospital, Prime imposed a costly new health benefit plan on employees, forcing many to cover their dependents under the state’s Medi-Cal program–or not at all.
“My two daughters and I are now without medical benefits, because I just can’t afford the $500 per month increase that Prime implemented,” said Monique Hemphill, a surgical technician at Centinela Hospital. “Prime has made it unaffordable for its own workers to have health benefits.”
Prime is thriving and profitable. During the first nine months of 2010 the corporate healthcare giant made a profit of $163 million according to SEIU-UHW.
The demonstration highlighted the growing coalition of community leaders, residents and healthcare workers—including members of SEIU-UHW—who say they are standing up for quality patient care and shining a light on Prime Healthcare’s business practices and its negative impact on the community.
Tari Williams, director of human resources at Prime Health Care, said, “I understand that there are a lot of issues surrounding the healthcare plan that have come into place, but I notice in the Inglewood Today newspaper that they are quoting things that were inaccurate regarding people with children leaving the plan because they could no longer afford it. Last year we had 155 people with children enrolled in the program, and this year we have 154. That one person difference to me does not match up to what I am hearing.
“We are absolutely continuing to offer free employee health coverage, and we feel very good about that,” said Williams. “A lot of employees are benefiting from the new plan through paying less co-pays and deductibles. So we are asking that people get the accurate facts because a lot of what we have been hearing we do not believe is accurate. What we have been hearing is nothing more than slanderous statements that are not backed up by any data. We have provided all of our documents and data and we feel very confident in the quality of care that we provide. Many of the employees are offended by these accusations.”
“We had Anthem Blue Cross and we were getting our health insurance covered,” said a concerned Centinela Hospital employee and member of SEIU-UHW. “Then Prime decided that they were no longer going to utilize Blue Cross as the primary healthcare service provider and that they would utilize another company, and if we decided not to go with that company we would be paying substantially more. For me personally it turns out to be an increase of about $250 dollars a month. Not only have we been affected by the changes being made but the quality of care at the facility has also been affected. The hospital is now mixing patients—psych patients are with orthopedic patients. We used to have a geriatric psych unit, but they closed it and now everybody is mixed in, which can be dangerous, especially with psych patients, because they can sometimes be a danger to themselves or other patients, and there is no security for them.”
“I’ve personally seen psych patients roaming the hospitals and going into other patients’ rooms, and I had to stop them, and that is dangerous,” said Alex Colon a transporter for the Centinela Hospital and member of SEIU-UHW. “The chemo and psych units were cut and labor delivery was cut down, too. Patient care is really suffering. I was personally affected because my family coverage was free and now its unaffordable. It’s roughly about $1,400 a month. So now only I am covered through the plan.”
“They treat us in the unions worse that they treat everyone else,” said Robin Dauphinais, a registered nurse at Centinela Hospital. “We ask for things and bargain for things and they just tell us no, but they give the same things to the non-union workers without hassle—for example, getting a weekend differential. That would pay us like a dollar or two more per hour for working on weekends; they told us no. They penalize us by not letting us work any overtime, but the charge nurses get plenty of overtime,” said Dauphinais. “I was sick recently and needed to go to urgent care, so I called Prime and asked them where in my area I could go that accepted the new insurance plan. The representative told me where to go and when I got there I was told they did not accept my new form of insurance and I had to put it all on my charge card. That is what we are dealing with now.”
“I have a vested interest in seeing Centinela Hospital maintain,” said Inglewood Councilman Ralph Franklin who attended the protest. “When Tenet Healthcare Corp. sold it and the hospital went from being a nonprofit to a for-profit, it immediately had a domino effect in the quality of care for our community, and we have lost a number of healthcare services, particularly emergency.
Now we are hearing horror stories that people are out here (at the hospital) 10 and 12 hours because they are an emergency, but the hospital now has to determine who goes first in triage. So now people keep lingering on and the only way to get seen immediately is paying the gigantic price of calling an ambulance, Franklin continued. “When I heard that the employees are now plagued with the different healthcare benefits that management is just trying to throw on them, and many of these health service employees might not even be able to afford it, then we as a community have to take concern. I have agreed to write a resolution to support quality health care at Centinela Hospital, and that will become law on Jan. 25.”
Members of SEIU-UHW seemed somewhat hopeful that the message they were trying to portray had gotten across and that there would be more opportunities for bargaining and dialogue. Future meetings were also set up with Councilman Franklin to further discuss the issues and work collectively to come up with workable solutions.
To follow this issue and for more information, contact David Tokaji at email@example.com.
Following months of escalating concern over Prime Healthcare Services’ business practices, hundreds of residents and healthcare workers staged a protest with a street theater in front of Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood last Saturday to underscore their demands that the hospital’s owner stop profiting at the expense of patients, caregivers, and the community.
Registered nurses (RNs) will picket Centinela Hospital Center and hold a noon rally today to protest what they call a systematic campaign by Prime Healthcare to sharply erode care standards and force the elimination of experienced nurses at the hospital at the expense of patient safety.
Centinela is operated by Prime, a for-profit chain owned by Prem Reddy, an M.D. who has already drawn notoriety, say nurses, for his efforts to erode patient care conditions and bid to drive down standards for experienced staff while exploiting new hires.
In response to mounting concern from area residents, the Inglewood City Council unanimously passed a resolution last Tuesday demanding accountability to the community from Prime Healthcare Services, which owns Centinela Hospital Medical Center.
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With most wearing purple shirts and some toting signs, the union workers gathered at Century and Airport boulevards and then marched west on Century toward Sepulveda Boulevard, under the close watch of police and media.
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