Labor unions concerned about hospital jobs

Union members at Saint Louise Regional Hospital want to be sure their jobs and their union are secure if the hospital is sold.

To express this concern, some members of Service Employee International Union-United Healthcare Workers West held a candlelight vigil Sept. 27 at the Gilroy hospital, whose owner, Verity Health Systems of California, had one month earlier announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 to “reorganize and facilitate an orderly and efficient sale process.”

Hospital workers said they are worried the hospital might close. Verity Health officials said they have no plans to close its hospitals, and began the bankruptcy process to ensure the “long-term health” of Saint Louise and the other five hospitals in its system.

“It would be devastating,” said 17-year Saint Louise ultrasound technician Marc Quarels at the demonstration last month. “I had a patient this week who was going to go to Stanford for their care. When they found out they could get it here, they were ecstatic. That should say something about the care we give in that little building.”

The Aug. 31 Verity Health Systems announcement came a month after Verity had announced the nonprofit was “exploring strategic options to alleviate financial and operational pressures on its six hospitals.”

“The workers are concerned for a variety of reasons,” said SEIU-UHW Senior Communications Specialist Sean Wherley. “When Verity bought the hospital it was contingent on them remaining open. Filing bankruptcy puts that in doubt. That concerns patients, workers and their families.”

Verity issued this response last week to the employee concerns:

“In response to employee claims that any individual is profiting from these hospitals: as a reminder, Verity is a non-profit organization that is purely managed by Integrity, not owned. The decision to file for protection was made by Verity’s management team and board of directors, not any other entity. This filing follows a diligent process of evaluating all options of the table in partnership with the board of directors and legal and financial expert counsel.”

“In response to employee concerns…which indicate that the O’Connor and St. Louise locations might close: The county has agreed to uphold both hospitals’ function and purpose” in the event of successful sale, Verity said.

Verity Health Systems is actively seeking buyers for all of its assets in Chapter 11. On July 31, Santa Clara County entered a bid to buy both Saint Louise and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. 

“I think that would be great if it went to the county,” said certified nurses’ assistant Deborah Schwoerer if the county bought Saint Louise.

Historically, Saint Louise has provided vital health care services for low-income, uninsured or underinsured residents.

Should the hospital close, the impact on the 184 SEIU-UHW members at St. Louise would be significant.

“I drive 45 miles to get health care at this hospital,” Quarels said of Saint Louise. “I drive past the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, past Natividad Hospital, past Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital to come here for my health care. It’s not because I’m an employee here. I come here because we give excellent care in that building over there.”

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