Report claims inadequate resources at UC medical centers

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A report published Thursday claims that inadequate and uneven staffing levels at University of California medical centers have led to patient neglect and harm.

The report, “A Question of Priorities: Profits, Short Staffing and the Shortchanging of Patient Care at UC Medical Centers,” was commissioned by AFSCME Local 3299, a union representing UC workers. It draws upon independent reports and inpatient discharge data to raise questions about the quality of care at UC medical centers.

“We put the report out as a call for help,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “When you press the call button, you’re not going to see someone show up. That’s bad patient care, and we want to see a change.”

The report identified systemic breakdowns and violations uncovered by the California Department of Public Health. In November 2012, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center received an F for patient safety from the Leapfrog Group, a health care organization that publishes an annual hospital-safety score.

“It’s a collection of cases,” explained Todd Stenhouse, communications director for AFSCME 3299. “It’s the custodian who shows up in the room of someone who has been sleeping in their own feces all night. It’s the CEO who sees patients as dollar signs.”

According to the report, these problems are the result of excessive management costs and rising debt service payments, which have led to chronic short-staffing and overbooking of operating rooms.

Despite the alleged issues with care at UC medical centers, representatives from the UC Office of the President claim the union is attempting to gain leverage by criticizing the university.

“We’re at an impasse in negotiations,” said UCOP spokesperson Steve Montiel. “UC medical centers are consistently rated among the best in the country. This report is a tactic to negotiate in the news media rather than negotiate at the bargaining table.”

AFSCME 3299 is in a stalemate with UC officials over labor contract negotiations for patient care technical workers that began in summer 2012. An independent mediator is being brought in to try to resolve the differences.

“We’ve appealed to supervisors on the floors of the hospitals, and we’ve brought it to the UC at the bargaining table,” Lybarger said. “They’ve been unresponsive.”

The report stated that possible resolutions include legislative hearings on management efficiencies, investigations of UC staffing practices and a reconsideration of the university’s constitutional status, which grants the system autonomy from basic employment standards in the state labor code and local ordinances.

“More oversight, transparency and accountability are needed to be sure we’re meeting standards and responsibilities,” Stenhouse said. “Our singular priority is that the UC medical system put patients first in all it does.”

Contact Mia Shaw at [email protected]