By Vladimir Rogers, Licensed Vocational Nurse at Kaiser Permanente
After 22 years of dedicated work caring for patients at Kaiser Permanente, it is particularly upsetting to watch the corporation lose its way.
I stand in solidarity with tens of thousands of other Kaiser Permanente workers who are preparing for a nationwide strike in October because I reject what Kaiser has become.
Until fairly recently, I would have shared a different story about my experience at Kaiser. When I started working here, I did not see greed like I do today. In 2017, the corporation – which is supposed to be a “non-profit” – gave its CEO a $6 million raise to $16 million a year and currently pays at least 36 executives $1 million or more a year. Kaiser is sitting on $35 billion in reserves and is getting ready to build a $900 million highrise for its headquarters in Oakland.
Who pays the price for the healthcare giant’s excesses? Kaiser workers and patients.
Kaiser is moving to a model of outsourcing and automation that takes the human touch out of healthcare. It is operating like any other corporate healthcare system, and the quality of patient care drops as a result. If my job was automated, there is no way technology could come close to replicating the trust I’ve built with my patients.
As part of my job, I prepare patients for surgery by teaching them what they need to know and expect. Because surgery is often a life-changing event for someone, I like that I can see them both before the procedure and after – when they leave with a smile and I know that I did something to help them. Caring about patients requires patience and empathy, something an automated system or outsourced worker – who often earns less with few if any benefits – could ever provide.
One example stands out when I worked in the emergency department. A young woman came in severely disoriented and while others may have thought she was under the influence of drugs, I suspected it was something different. When I began speaking with her, she gestured to her head, signaling she was in pain. As I notified the doctor, the patient collapsed in front of me. She was experiencing bleeding in the brain. Only because I took the time to talk with her, were we able to respond to her sooner.
A hospital with outstanding patient care does not happen by accident. At Kaiser Permanente, it was the result of a partnership that caregivers established over the years with our employer. When healthcare workers have a meaningful voice on the job, we can be involved in suggesting and implementing solutions for patient care, staffing, and other issues. We are able to advocate for our patients and deliver the care they deserve.
Today, the partnership that built Kaiser’s reputation for putting patients first, is broken. The shift culminated in our recent contract negotiations when Kaiser proposed cutting caregiver raises and increasing the costs of our medical benefits. Kaiser’s bad faith bargaining and unfair labor practices left us with no choice but to vote to authorize a strike.
Striking is our last resort and it will be gut-wrenching to be away from our patients, but Kaiser leaves us no choice. We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best quality care is to take this step.
We want Kaiser Permanente, which gets hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks each year, to hold up its end of the bargain. And we support a renewed partnership with Kaiser that can bring new people into the growing healthcare industry and provide ongoing training and support to them.
I view my job as a commitment to my patients, and now I urge Kaiser Permanente to do the same.
Vladimir Rogers is a Licensed Vocational Nurse at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland.