Protestors rally at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center to support health care worker, patient safety

photo from worker and patient safety rally
Renée Saldaña/Courtesy
Protestors were joined by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West labor union against Sutter Health’s health care policies and plan to close the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on campus by 2030.

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Protestors rallied at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland on Wednesday to pressure Sutter Health on behalf of patients and workers who are affected by high health care prices and short staffing.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, or SEIU-UHW, promoted the rally in protest of Sutter Health’s purported neglect toward health care quality despite accumulating more than $800 million during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a rally flyer.

“While we continue to bargain in good faith and support our healthcare workers as they care for our communities, we are disappointed that SEIU chose to take this unnecessary action,” said Sutter Health spokesperson Monique Binkley Smith in an email. “We remain focused on reaching a shared resolution and continuing to provide safe, compassionate patient care.”

The SEIU-UHW is a labor union that advocates for an improved health care system to serve all Californians, according to its website. The union comprises more than 100,000 frontline healthcare workers, patients and healthcare consumers, the website added.

The rally flyer also cited Sutter Health’s plan to shut down the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on campus. According to Riya Master, the external affairs vice president for the ASUC, while the pandemic has put a hold on the activism surrounding the center, Sutter Health is moving forward on closing it by 2030.

“(Our office has) been vocal about it in the past because this is the closest hospital to our campus, so students will have no medical center nearby except for in Oakland,” Master said. “Sutter has tried to argue that a few minutes or miles will not be a life-or-death situation, but I wholeheartedly disagree with that.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguίn reiterated that losing Alta Bates Summit Medical Center would have “devastating consequences” for the city.

An impact report from 2018 commissioned by the city of Berkeley said the proposed closure will decrease access to “urgent and chronic care for vulnerable populations,” including people with disabilities, people of color and the elderly.

It would also increase unhoused patients at East Bay hospitals and result in unemployment for entry-level hospital workers and some skilled positions, the impact report added.

“It’s truly not fair for corporations or companies to make money, taking it off of our backs and hard work and jeopardizing patient safety to make a buck,” said Anthony Benjamin, a food service worker at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center who was a speaker at the rally.

Benjamin noted that during the pandemic, workers at the medical center have received fewer hours. Consequently, for those who do not have the highest seniority, it was “almost like a layoff,” he said.

Arreguίn said the city of Berkeley plans to collaborate with the university to study the impacts of the closure of the medical center on campus and ensure that Berkeley residents have access to health care.

“It’s time for Sutter Health management to put patient and caregiver safety first,”  said SEIU-UHW spokesperson Renée Saldaña in an email. “Sutter needs to listen to caregivers and stop short staffing and driving up costs while driving the quality of care down.”

Contact Zachary Khouri at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @zachakhouri.