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On April 1, 2004, a community forum addressing the crisis in hospitals took place at St. Joseph Catholic School in Sacramento. The event featured Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg, City Councilmember Dave Jones, and SEIU Local 250 Hospital Division Director John Borsos, as well as a school auditorium full of union leaders and community activists. Titled "New Directions in Hospital Care", the two hour forum looked at workforce problems, proposed solutions to those problems, and gathered support for the proposed plan of action.

The event felt like the seed of a great change in healthcare. The school auditorium held some major players in the community of activists whose common interest is access to healthcare for all. Every union has an interest in this issue, as healthcare benefits are a #1 concern to all working people. Everyone over 65 has an interest in this issue, as their health benefits are being whittled away by Medicare changes. Every disabled person has an interest in this issue as their care and caregivers are affected by state and local budget cuts. Everyone has a stake in the healthcare system, and an alliance is now forming to create a better healthcare future.

SEIU Local 250, as a union representing health care workers, is uniquely positioned to lead the charge for change. As both a provider and receiver of health care, the members of this union know that improvements in health care delivery can't be made by shortchanging workers-- the change has got to come from somewhere else in the system. The hospital industry in California made $2.5 billion in profits in 2002, and the use of those profits is where the change needs to start.

At the end of the evening, Darrell Steinberg, Dave Jones, and the leaders of many unions and community groups pledged support for SEIU Local 250's healthcare contract campaign. Local 250 has actively supported all of these politicians and groups in their campaigns and it was a deeply gratifying moment to realize that the support would now be returned. As each union leader and community activist stood up, I remembered the occasions when we in Local 250 had stood up for them, and a sense of the unity and power we could have in reaching the goal of healthcare for all seemed imminently and heroically possible.


 
  SEIU Local 250 members registered interested community members at St. Joseph school as they gathered for the hospital healthcare forum. Everyone got a copy of "Putting California Hospitals on the Right Track," SEIU Local 250's research paper on the hospital crisis.

 
  The St. Joseph's school auditorium was filled with healthcare advocates as Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg opened the forum by welcoming guests and expressing his concern with the state of healthcare in California.


 
 

SEIU Local 250 Hospital Division Director John Borsos presented the findings of "Putting California's Hospitals on the Right Track." He noted that the current bargaining campaign for SEIU Locals 250, 399, and 121 provides a unique opportunity for improving working conditions and patient care. A new and better statewide contract for this healthcare workers' union would change working conditions for approximately 14,000 workers in 28 healthcare facilities, and in so doing, improve patient care.

"Private hospitals in California are enormously profitable," Borsos said, citing that in 2002, private hospitals in the state reported profits of $2.5 billion. However, hospitals face a serious problem in that they must spend $1.75 billion replacing staff due to the very high rate of turnover. There is a staffing crisis in our hospitals as shown by the high vacancy rates (15% for Imaging Services techs), high rate of turnover (an average rate of 21%), and high use of registry workers (the average hospital spends $1.29 million a year on registry staff).

The impact of staffing shortages on patients includes ER overcrowding, and increased wait times for exams and surgeries. "The quality of patient care is undermined by hospitals' reliance on less-experienced and temporary workers. Temporary personnel may be unfamiliar with the hospitals' medical protocols and procedures. Furthermore, the unstable work environment that accompanies high staff turnover encourages more experienced workers to seek employment elsewhere."

A 2002 study, The Business Case for Workforce Stability found a direct correlation between high turnover rates and poorer clinical outcomes. The study found that hospitals with high employee turnover rates (22-44%) had an adjusted patient mortality index that was 40% higher than hospitals with low employee turnover rates (4-12%).
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