SEIU embarks on organizing drive at SW Washington Medical Center

VANCOUVER, WA -- Health care workers, including registered nurses, emergency and operating room technicians and front-line caregivers are involved in a union organizing campaign with Service Employees Local 49 at Southwest Washington Medical Center.

According to employees, last March the hospital began accepting a large number of new patients through an agreement with Kaiser Permanente. Soon after, management implemented a process termed "transformation," which initially included staff cuts and reassigned job duties.

"The influx of new patients, together with staff cuts and restructuring, has drastically increased workloads, putting great stress on workers and affecting patient care," said Shelley Herochik, spokesperson for Local 49.

Before transformation, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) had approximately four to six patients each; now their average is seven to eight patients. To deal with the increased workload, the hospital has begun implementing "cross training" which, according to the union, often amounts to more work with minimal training.

CNAs in the emergency room, for example, now draw blood and perform electrocardiograms. CNAs on the floors perform EKGs and have other expanded job duties, Herochik said.

Many Southwest Washington Medical Center workers believe that transformation was a way for the hospital to save money. According to the union, hospital profits doubled between 1995 and 1997 -- from $7.9 million to $14.8 million, yet the hospital is committed to reducing per patient discharge costs by 5 percent a year.

"Southwest Washington Medical Center's 6 percent profit rate in 1996 was well above the state average of 3.7 percent," Herochik said. "While most workers have received little or no raises, former chief executive officer Jeffrey Selberg received a 19.4 percent raise from 1995-1996. His total compensation increased from $289,000 to $345,000."


May 1, 1998 issue

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