Health workers at University of California medical centers began a two-day strike on Tuesday with a walkout at 4 a.m. that potentially affects thousands of employees and led to the postponement and rescheduling of some patient surgeries and appointments.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union is battling management over staffing and pension issues at facilities in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Sacramento.
The union represents nearly 13,000 hospital pharmacists, nursing assistants, operating room scrubs and other patient care workers. Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union, representing more than 3,300 health care workers, were expected to hold "sympathy strikes," according to UCLA.
WHAT PATIENTS NEED TO KNOW
- What happened to the scheduled appointments and surgeries?
Dale Tate, executive director at UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, told KPCC that anyone who had clinical appointments or surgeries affected by the strike were contacted days ago to reschedule.
- What if I have a medical emergency in the next two days?
Emergency rooms will remain open at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica and at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood. It's a Level I Trauma Center, Tate explains. "They are open. They have to stay open."
- Will I be able to make a future appointment during the strike?
Yes, according to Tate. Medical staff are answering phones at all locations and taking appointments for future dates.
- How can the facilities function with employees on strike?
Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA hospitals, told KPCC that to ensure patient safety, they've brought in 400 temp workers to fill in at three local campuses. They've also filed a court injunction to ensure certain staffers stay on the job.
"Pharmacists, for example. You can't run a hospital safely without pharmacy, we give millions of doses of drugs — it's the mainstay of treatment for a lot of the patients so there's nobody else who can do that work other than pharmacists. So they were enjoined by name and they are in the hospital."
- How many patients are currently in the hospitals?
Rosenthal said UCLA has about 700 patients in three hospitals — Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica and the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. UCLA also runs Mattel Children's Hospital, but it is not separately licensed and sits within the Ronald Reagan campus.
"We're caring for patients exactly as usual, but it's not a usual day," he said. "We've had to do a whole ton of things to be sure we can, in fact, run safely. That's cost a lot of money, but that's not the most important issue. We're working hard to make sure it is safe and business as usual."
- What's the latest word from UCLA?
On May 21 at 8:40 a.m. the UCLA Health System issued the following statement:
"Despite a strike by two unions, both the Westwood and Santa Monica campuses of the UCLA Health System are open and providing the safest and highest quality care to our patients. With careful planning and the professionalism and dedication of many union employees who put patients first and came to work today, the UCLA Health System is taking care of the health care needs of our community."
- What's the latest word from AFSCME?
On May 21, a story published to the AFSCME blog reads:
"Thousands of University of California patient care workers went on strike today in five locations throughout the state. ... 'This strike is about standing up for students, patients and taxpayers the UC Medical System was intended to serve,' said Local 3299 Pres. Kathryn Lybarger, also an AFSCME International vice president. 'UC’s increasingly unsafe staffing practices and growing culture of executive entitlement are undermining patient care quality and unnecessarily putting lives at risk.'"
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