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OR Health Workers Rally Over Staffing Limitations

Health-care union members picketed at Kaiser Permanente Clackamas medical campus on June 28. (SEIU Local 49)
Health-care union members picketed at Kaiser Permanente Clackamas medical campus on June 28. (SEIU Local 49)
July 10, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. - Workers at Kaiser Permanente are to rally today over concerns about staffing changes some say are leaving hospitals and medical offices shorthanded.

Service Employees International Union Local 49 members are to picket beginning at 11 a.m. at Kaiser Permanente's north Portland medical campus, and picketed at the Clackamas campus two weeks ago. One issue for employees is disbanding of the Clackamas center's "SAFE Team," which specialized in transporting high-risk patients.

Steven Hawkins, a Certified Nursing Assistant who was part of the team, said that when a patient recently fell, there wasn't set protocol for how to help him.

"It was disheartening to me, because we have the equipment available to take care of this properly," he said. "But now, we had to motivate people, and pull them from what they were already doing, to come down and help this person, and it actually delayed a response."

While the SAFE Team no longer exists, Kaiser spokesman Michael Foley said specialized training has been given to all employees involved in patient care, increasing the number of staff members capable of providing safe transport.

Another concern for hospital staff is the decision to close the Atrium Cafe at the Portland campus. Carl Pitzer was a cook there who led the cafe's transition to a plant-based kitchen. The cafe was popular, even attracting people from the surrounding community. Pitzer said some patients have to stay on campus all day, sometimes with specific dietary needs, and their only source for a hot meal now is if a family member goes off campus.

"They have to sit there the whole day, and now they've got nothing except a vending machine," he said. "A vending machine can't answer your questions. We had such a good relationship with our patients."

Kaiser responded that the Atrium Cafe grew beyond its designed capacity and was closed rather than making costly renovations. It noted that laid-off staff receive pay and benefits for a year.

Jennifer Forrester, a medical assistant on the Portland campus, said the rally-goers today will call on more support from Kaiser for its workforce.

"We're looking at staffing in general across the board," she said, "and how Kaiser needs to put their resources into the employees who do the work to take care of patients and give high-quality health care to our members and the community."

More information on the rally is online at seiu49.org.

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR