Sutter Health reneges on commitments to city, community

Sutter Health, the corporation that operates California Pacific Medical Center's four San Francisco facilities, is reneging on its commitments to the people of The City.

Despite its high profit margins, Sutter plans to eliminate 24 skilled nursing beds and is demanding huge cost increases for employee health insurance that, along with other cuts, would make it more difficult for its caregivers to live in the community they serve, contributing to The City's rapid gentrification.

But Sutter's workers, the vast majority of whom are women and people of color, are taking a stand. Last month, 98 percent of CPMC employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers voted to authorize their leaders to call a one-day strike if necessary to protest these unfair labor practices that undermine community standards for patient care and place undue burdens on those who provide it.

In 2010, Sutter CPMC made a commitment to The City and the Health Commission that, as a condition of building a new facility on Van Ness Avenue, it would maintain at least 100 skilled-nursing beds among its four campuses. Sutter CPMC's proposed cuts would drop that number to 75 and would leave The City's westside with no skilled-nursing beds at all. Sutter CPMC is also proposing 20 layoffs. The hospital is counting on short memories and a false narrative of fiscal uncertainty to push these cuts through in hopes of padding its already fat bottom line. With a second-quarter profit margin of 16.46 percent, CPMC ranks among the state's most profitable nonprofit hospitals, while its parent company, Sutter Health, is one of California's largest health care corporations.

Meanwhile, as Sutter CPMC reduces services, it is demanding concessions from its employees that would make it increasingly difficult for health care workers to keep up with the cost of living in one of the nation's most expensive cities. Many Sutter CPMC workers already have been driven out of the city, and if Sutter executives have their way, many more will follow.

Sutter CPMC's proposals include nearly doubling the out-of-pocket maximum that workers pay for health care; doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling co-payments for hospital services, prescription drugs, and emergency services; mandating costly annual deductibles for health care; and limiting cost-of-living wage increases to 1.75 percent. These proposals add up to a significant pay cut for Sutter CPMC workers, whose annual health care costs would far exceed CPMC's proposed wage increase. In the event of a serious family illness, the costs could be devastating. A CPMC food-service worker supporting two children could face out-of-pocket health care expenses that would consume as much as 34 percent of his or her annual income.

With people of color accounting for 89 percent of the Sutter CPMC workforce and women accounting for 61 percent, these cuts will contribute to the rapid gentrification of San Francisco. A 2013 report by The City's budget and legislative analyst found that in 2011, 42 percent of San Francisco households were rent-burdened, meaning the cost of housing consumed more than 30 percent of the household's income. Meanwhile, no-fault evictions (aka Ellis Act evictions) jumped 170 percent between 2010 and 2013.

While Sutter CPMC workers are struggling to get by, its executives are drawing huge salaries. Warren Browner, CEO of CPMC and Sutter West Bay Hospitals, makes $1.5 million, and Pat Fray, president and CEO of Sutter Health, draws $6.4 million, making him one of the nation's highest-paid nonprofit hospital CEOs, according to Modern Healthcare.

Sutter CPMC is plenty willing to invest in its executives, but it is clearly unwilling to invest in quality patient care or the workers who provide it. And ultimately, the people of San Franciso will pay the price.

Sal Rosselli is president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents more than 10,000 workers throughout California, including 742 CPMC patient care assistants, housekeepers, food-service workers, licensed vocational nurses, and other caregivers.

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