Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center
Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center

MID CITY — Patient care workers at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center will join thousands of others at UC hospitals across the state in a two-day strike to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels while administrators rake in fat-cat salaries and pensions.

Members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union will walk off the job between 4 a.m. Tuesday until 4 a.m. Thursday at both the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, as well as hospitals in Irvine, San Francisco and San Diego.

Union officials hold that they are carrying dangerously high patient loads and that the UC Health System is cutting trained, front-line workers in favor of cheaper replacements or even volunteers at the same time that administrators receive millions of dollars in salaries and pensions.

UC officials, however, say that the union representing the nearly 13,000 workers is jeopardizing patient care by refusing to come back to the bargaining table to work out issues surrounding pension reform, and will cost the nonprofit health system $20 million in the process.

Most of that money will go to hiring temporary workers for the two days, as well as lost revenue, which they say will impact the hospitals’ patient care and education missions.

The union declared an impasse and ended negotiations in December over potential changes to pension agreements, said Dwaine Duckett, vice president for system-wide human resources.

Although they claim concerns about patient care, the union members will be hurting patients by refusing to come to work, officials said.

“No ifs, ands or buts about it, this strike will impact our ability to provide high-quality medical care to patients,” said John Stobo, the UC system’s senior vice president for health sciences and services.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge agreed Monday, ruling that 453 employees must remain at their posts to protect public health and safety, the Associated Press reported.

That’s far less than the full injunction sought by UC officials, and will leave hospitals struggling to supply medications, test blood and perform x-rays or other imaging procedures, said Josh Adler, chief medical officer at UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Hospital workers have formed patient protection task forces to help out in the event of an emergency, said Lakeisha Collins, an executive board member and a cook at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

“We want to shed some light onto the UC, that they start listening to us and understanding,” Collins said. “We put our patients first, and now it’s time for them to do the same.”

UC medical centers across the state have been gearing up for the strike since last week, and do not expect things to return to normal for almost a week after the action ends.

Officials canceled surgeries, delayed procedures like radiation therapy and chemotherapy and dropped the number of patients at their facilities by 20 percent to minimize the impacts of the strike.

At least five children with congenital heart defects will have to wait until the strike is over to get care, and although there are no plans at this point to close emergency rooms, ambulances may be directed away from over-crowded emergency facilities if the strike is more disruptive than anticipated.

Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center is a go-to for pediatric care in the region, and its Nethercutt Emergency center serves 40,000 patients each year.

The system overall provides patient care services valued at $7 billion annually and accounts for more than 3.9 million clinic visits and over 290,000 emergency room visits each year, according the health system’s website.

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