Hospital workers say they face retaliation after lobbying for removal of Zuckerberg’s name

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital workers rallied outside of the Potrero Avenue campus on Friday in support of a suspended registered nurse who says he was targeted because he called for the removal of the Facebook founder’s name from the hospital.

For the last 15 years, Guy Vandenberg has been stationed in Ward 86, a University of California at San Francisco HIV outpatient clinic at ZSFGH, where he is a leading advocate for the rights of those living with HIV, according to those who worked with him.

On Monday, Vandenberg said he was placed on paid leave indefinitely, with an investigation into his performance “pending.” He said that he was given 45 minutes to pack up his belongings and blocked from saying parting words to his patients.

A UCSF spokesperson could comment on the reasons for Vandenberg’s suspension, citing personnel matters.

On the day of his suspension, Vandenberg and ZSFGH registered nurse Sasha Cuttler sent a letter to San Francisco Department of Public Health director Grant Colfax to demand support for a call to remove Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital’s signage, among other things.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which manages ZSFGH, could neither confirm receipt of the letter nor comment on the suspension.

Cuttler is among a group of ZSFGH staff who allege they have faced retaliation for voicing their voicing their opinions.

In January, Cuttler reported the hospital to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration over allegations of retaliation.

He alleged that he had been removed from oversight positions on various regulatory boards and denied promotions after advocating for increased patient protections, data transparency and for stripping Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital.

While Vandenberg is an employee of UCSF, Cuttler said that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have also donated to the hospital to establish the Chan Zuckerberg Medical Science Biohub.

“I do feel targeted,” said Vandenberg, who at the advice of his union representatives did not disclose details of his suspension but called the stated reasons “vague” and “clearly insufficient” for the “severity of the action against me.”

“My suspension is indefinite until the investigation is concluded and there is no timeline set for that,” said Vandenberg, who added that an advertisement for his position had been posted “before I received notice.”

“I feel this is not about me but larger issues — this is about the integrity of the hospital and its mission of providing care to some of the most vulnerable San Franciscans and conducting our care and research in a way that is ethical,” he said about the continued advocacy by ZSFGH staff.

Citing privacy violations by Facebook, hospital staff members have organized for some time around a call to remove Mark Zuckerberg’s name, which was added to the hospital in 2015 in exchange for a $75 million donation to the hospital.

“His donation of $75 million in 2015 was appreciated, but this came only after San Francisco residents authorized more than $887 million during the beginning of the recession in 2008. In addition, Facebook’s continuing disregard of ethical norms in research is threatening the community’s trust in public health and science,” Vandenberg and Cutler wrote in the letter to Colfax.

In the letter, Vandenberg and Cuttler also called on Colfax to investigate “disparate treatment of non-white UCSF and DPH staff.”

“Black employees are suffering from disproportionate dismissal from City service. An equity survey at SFGH revealed that newer employees, and white and Asian staff feel that we have achieved equity but Black and Latinx staff do not share that view,” wrote Vandenberg and Cuttler.

Those claims were echoed by a UCSF clinical social worker Kimberley Minter who is stationed in Ward 86. Minter said that staff in the department attempted to address cultural disparities with a three part competency training series, but that management opted out of two sessions.

“We can’t make changes unless you start from the top — that was very concerning to us,” said Minter. “There is African American staff [at the hospital] who feel that they are being pushed out.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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