Healthcare workers call on Attorney General, state regulators to issue injunction to block California Hospital Association’s whistleblower gag clause

June 18th, 2015

Healthcare workers call on Attorney General, state regulators to issue injunction to block California Hospital Association’s whistleblower gag clause

Secret agreement with state’s largest healthcare labor union bars caregivers from reporting patient-care violations to government agencies, media

Previously unreleased “Code of Conduct” has far-reaching ramifications for California healthcare consumers

EMERYVILLE — The National Union of Healthcare Workers requested today that California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Department of Managed Health Care issue an immediate injunction to stop Kaiser Permanente and other hospital companies from enforcing a gag clause that bars tens of thousands of hospital employees from reporting patient-care violations to government oversight agencies or the media.

Click here to read the complaint: https://nuhw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NUHW-Complaint_Hospital_Gag_Clause_Complaint-F-06-18-2015.pdf

In May 2014, just months after Kaiser Permanente was fined $4 million by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) for committing “serious” and “systemic” mental health violations, Kaiser and other California hospitals and health systems reportedly negotiated and signed an agreement with Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU–UHW) that includes a gag clause designed to silence workers engaged in the sort of whistleblower activity that led to the DMHC investigation. According to the California Hospital Association and SEIU-UHW, “a wide range of hospitals and health systems covering a majority of hospital beds in California” have signed the agreement. Today, for the first time, these documents are being revealed publicly in nearly 100 pages of documentation accompanying NUHW’s request for an immediate injunction.

The gag clause has huge ramifications for California healthcare consumers. Any effort to prohibit caregivers from reporting patient-care violations poses serious risks for patients. For example, Kaiser is the state’s largest HMO with more than 7.2 million Californians under its care. The agreement bars as many as 80,000 healthcare workers and their union, SEIU-UHW, at hundreds of healthcare facilities throughout the state from “pursu[ing], sponsor[ing] or support[ing] any legislation, initiative, regulatory, or other efforts that are adverse to the interests of” hospital companies. It also prohibits workers and their union from “instigating or supporting…adverse action by any branch of government” with respect to the hospital companies. Furthermore, the agreement forbids workers and their union from issuing communications to the public, media, and legislature that “raise concerns about hospital pricing and executive compensation in health care.”

In the complaint, NUHW calls on Attorney General Harris and the DMHC to investigate apparent violations of California laws designed to safeguard employees’ rights to report patient-care violations to government agencies and to issue an immediate injunction blocking any party from enforcing the gag clause.

The “Code of Conduct” is one portion of a multi-part legal deal entered into by SEIU-UHW, the California Hospital Association, Kaiser Permanente, and other hospitals and health systems in California in May 2014. According to the terms of the deal, SEIU-UHW secured the right to unionize up to 60,000 hospital workers in exchange for dropping two statewide ballot initiatives that would have capped hospital executives’ compensation and granted California’s elected insurance commissioner veto power over health insurance companies’ exorbitant rate hikes; pledging to use SEIU’s political relationships with legislators to win $6 billion a year in new taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal revenues for the California hospital industry; depositing $20 million of SEIU-UHW’s monies into a political campaign fund jointly controlled by the California Hospital Association; forfeiting hospital caregivers’ labor standards; and accepting the far-reaching gag clause.

NUHW members include more than 2,600 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians, whose whistleblower actions to defend patients’ rights have put them at the forefront of the effort to enforce state and federal mental health parity laws.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led, democratic movement for quality patient care and a stronger voice for workers. NUHW represents 11,000 healthcare workers throughout California.