A Failure of Leadership at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital

NewsMay 23, 2016

By Esther Fierros-Nuñez
Published May 17,  2016 in the Salinas Californian

In his May 14 op-ed in the Californian, Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH) CEO Pete Delgado put an utterly disingenuous spin on the hospital’s stalled negotiations with 700 caregivers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Delgado characterized the hospital board’s decision to unilaterally implement the terms of its “last, best, and final offer” on its employees as an act of “leadership” when it was anything but. Rather, it was an act of retaliation against us for vowing to strike Tuesday, May 17, over SVMH’s profit-first approach to community healthcare.

One could not have asked the board for a more perfect demonstration of the failure of leadership that has undermined the morale of the hospital’s workforce, the quality of care SVMH provides, and the trust accorded the public hospital by the community whose property tax dollars help fund it with more than $3 million a year.

By contrast, when true leadership was demonstrated by Assemblymember Luis Alejo, who offered to mediate negotiations in order to avert a costly strike, as he did successfully a few years ago, Delgado and Co. first agreed, then reneged.

“Mr. Delgado’s change of heart on mediation is a lost opportunity to end this impasse with an amicable resolution that would avert a strike,” said Alejo. “A strike will cost the hospital up to $1 million per day and it could have perhaps been avoided if Mr. Delgado and the hospital’s bargaining team would agree to mediate as soon as possible.”

Delgado instead proposes we go to fact finding, a long and expensive process by which Delgado hopes to prolong negotiations with the goal of undermining the resolve of the hospital’s workforce.

The fact is, Delgado and his administration, in 15 months of bargaining, have not budged on nearly 30 deep cuts and concessions they’re demanding of SVMH caregivers. In his op-ed, Delgado even admitted that many of the terms in his offer are onerous. By describing the “compassion” and “fairness” of the board’s decision not to implement all provisions of the offer, Delgado made clear that his offer is neither compassionate nor fair. Nor does it demonstrate leadership.

What are Delgado and the board forcing on SVMH caregivers and patients? At a time when the hospital is enjoying soaring profits ($45.4 million in 2015, with an 11.1 percent profit margin — more than double the state average) Delgado and the board are demanding drastic cuts and unacceptable changes, including:

• Steep healthcare premium hikes that would nullify the insufficient cost-of-living increases the hospital has proposed. Our patients are not well served when caregivers are struggling to get by, nor can SVMH expect to retain and recruit experienced caregivers without providing decent wages and benefits.

• Mandatory overtime that would force caregivers, with little notice, to scramble to arrange rides, daycare, meals, or babysitters for their children. The voluntary overtime system works; increased staffing would solve the problem completely. So why does Delgado want to undermine morale and the quality of patient care by forcing caregivers to work longer hours against their will?

• No increase in staffing and no voice for caregivers in determining staffing levels. Delgado and the board intend to continue their cost-saving, profit-boosting approach to healthcare by understaffing the hospital, forcing patients to accept lower standards of care, and demanding that caregivers work overtime to make up the difference.

Over the past year and a half, Delgado has also made clear he expects workers to concede to the hospital the right to subcontract our jobs. That’s right: Delgado believes it is “in the best interest of our hospital and our employees” to fire their employees, eliminate stable jobs in our community, and subcontract our jobs to out-of-area workers.

I suppose there’s a precedent — SVMH hired Texas-based Delgado to run our local hospital, and just look at the result: a CEO who puts profits ahead of patients and demonstrates complete disregard for the community he is supposed to serve.

Salinas resident Esther Fierros-Nuñez works for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and is a member of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 700 SVMH caregivers and 11,000 caregivers statewide.