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Nurses Protest Layoffs, Cuts at Alta Bates Summit Hospitals

The California Nurses Association picketed the Alta Bates Summit hospital in Berkeley today to protest layoffs of hundreds of employees and cuts in patient services.

Nurses picketed at the Alta Bates Summit hospital in Berkeley on Jan. 15, 2014 to protest layoffs and cuts. Photo credit: Rory Merry
Nurses picketed at the Alta Bates Summit hospital in Berkeley on Jan. 15, 2014 to protest layoffs and cuts. Photo credit: Rory Merry
Nurses picketed at the Alta Bates Summit hospital on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley today, Wednesday, to protest a large number of layoffs, job restructuring and service cuts. 

The hospital, part of Sutter Health's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, announced plans for 358 layoffs earlier this month, including 133 at the Berkeley campus on Ashby, according to a notice filed on the state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification website.

The company – which also has a Summit campus in Oakland and Herrick campus in Berkeley – is also shutting down its infusion services at Summit and its skilled nursing facility.

Alta Bates Summit is suffering losses of more than $8 million a month because of a substantial drop in patients and insurance reimbursement rates combined with rising expenses, according to a Jan. 9 memo from Alta Bates Summit CEO Chuck Prosper.

In a news release today, the California Nurses Association criticized "huge pay increases for top executives" and "hospital charges at well beyond their cost" at Alta Bates Summit while the company is also "pushing major cuts for patients and registered nurses."

The nurses' union said Sutter’s East Bay Regional President David Bradley, for example, "received pay increases of 64 percent, 43 percent and 19 percent the last three years, 2010 through 2012, and now draws a salary of just under $2 million a year."

Elimination of the inpatient infusion center, the skilled nursing facility and an inpatient oncology unit will force patients to seek outpatient facilities with less skilled care, the union said.

And the restructuring of registered nurses' jobs will result in further strains on critical short staffing and force RNs to "rebid on newly created positions that may come with very few hours, causing RNs to lose health coverage, pensions, sick leave, or vacation time," the union said.

Alta Bates Summit spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp told Patch that the pay level of company executives at parity with the industry.

"Our nurses are probably making a great deal more than nurses at other hospital," she said. "And they deserve it. They deserve every penny of it."

Dr. Steve O'Brien, Alta Bates Summit chief medical officer, said the changes will allow the company's hospitals to focus on "critical services for in-patient care" while shifting non-core services to other facilities for out-patient care in line with the prevailing industry trend.

"We are like other providers – we can't be all things to all people," he said.

As for nurses' benefits, he said 80 percent of Alta Bates Summit's 1,700 nurses receive benefits while only 6 percent work full-time and that the restructuring is designed to bring greater alignment of benefits and hours worked.

Kemp said the number of patients at Alta Bates Summit has dropped more than 18 percent in the past three years, compared to a reduction of employee work hours of only around 5 percent.

O'Brien said the cuts and reorganization are part of a multi-year strategy designed to restore Alta Bates Summit to financial health and enhance its ability to serve the community.

"We've been in a bad or worsening financial status in the last several years," he said.

The nurses union said the latest cuts in services follow earlier "closures of the Cardiac Cath unit at the Berkeley campus, the Pulmonary Sub-Acute unit at the Herrick campus, the Antepartum testing unit at Summit, Inpatient Infusion unit at Herrick, cuts in adolescent and geriatric psychiatric beds, and the discontinuation of bone marrow transplants and breast cancer screenings at the Alta Bates campus."

Nurses went on strike in June at Alta Bates Summit and other Sutter Health hospitals to protest proposed cuts in compensation.

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