By Jose Rivera, Emergency Room Assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey
Every day I go to work and answer a call to duty to my patients. In a couple of weeks, I am ready to be called to another important duty as I join 80,000 Kaiser workers around the country demanding Kaiser Permanente get back on track.
As an Emergency Room Assistant, I have to be prepared for anything. I’m a central part of the team, taking patients’ vital signs and keeping doctors supplied in triage situations. One time, I stood in the parking lot of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey holding a flashlight as a group of employees helped deliver a baby. I am committed to my job and will go to great lengths to serve my patients.
Having a fully-staffed and committed team make the difference between life and death in the ER. Operating as a cohesive unit — doctors, nurses, assistants, techs — we form a family-like bond that helps us deliver the best care in high-pressure circumstances. I used to think of Kaiser management as part of that team, dedicated to what’s best for our patients, but lately things have changed.
Instead of a “non-profit” healthcare provider with real ties to the local community, Kaiser has started acting like any other big corporate chain that symbolizes the problems with healthcare in America. The partnership between caregivers and management that built Kaiser’s brand and reputation as the healthcare provider that puts patients first, has broken down. Kaiser is moving to a model of outsourcing and automation that takes the human touch out of care.
I see the change in the outsourcing and short staffing that impacts the care we are able to give in the ER. An already stressful ER can become overwhelming when the room is understaffed.
Kaiser claims cutting costs and corners is necessary, but it’s simply not true. The corporation’s profits, revenues and executive compensation tell a completely different story.
Kaiser’s CEO got a $6 million raise, bringing his total annual compensation to more than $16 million in 2017, the last year his salary was publically available. It’s not just the CEO; at least 36 Kaiser executives are paid more than $1 million a year.
Kaiser is currently sitting on $35 billion in reserves, more than the city budgets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and San Diego combined. It recently announced plans for a $900 million lavish new headquarters and a nearly $300 million endorsement deal with the Golden State Warriors. Despite being a “non-profit,” Kaiser made more than $3 billion in profits in the first quarter of this year, and is on track to make more in profits in the first six months of 2019 than it has ever made in an entire year.
Does this sound like a healthcare corporation that cannot afford to do right by its patients and workers?
We have to get Kaiser back on track as the provider that communities want as neighbors, patients believe provides the best care, and workers are proud to work for.
That’s why I joined tens of thousands of fellow Kaiser caregivers around the country to vote “yes” to a strike. It’s not a vote I ever expected or wanted to take, but we are left with no choice. It’s the only way workers can get Kaiser back to its mission of helping our patients thrive.
When Kaiser caregivers strike, it will be for more than just our own interests on the job. Striking is a duty I am called to because I’m committed to providing the best patient care.
We are holding the line on quality patient care standards. We are making sure that a non-profit corporation like Kaiser, that gets huge tax breaks and so many other public benefits, is holding up its end of the bargain. And we are thinking big about how a renewed partnership with Kaiser can help set a positive vision for training and building the healthcare workforce of the future to meet a growing shortage of workers over the next decade and more.
If our goals seem high, in reality they are simply matching the standards Kaiser caregivers set for ourselves and our patients years ago.
Jose Rivera is an Emergency Room Assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey.