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NUHW members picket UCSF Children’s Hospital Oakland, seeking to keep care in East Bay

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has been named among the 12 best childrens’ hospitals in the United States— but will it remain that way? The hospital’s 1,200 NUHW members, joined by community leaders, held a Jan. 25 picket to inform the public that they’re witnessing an erosion in services and are concerned that cash-strapped UCSF Health will further deprive Oakland and East Bay families of needed treatment by shifting services to San Francisco.

“We’ve already lost so much of what made Children’s Hospital Oakland a beloved East Bay institution, we can’t allow UCSF to hollow it out any further,” said Jackie Schalit, a mental health therapist with an early intervention program whose staffing has been cut in half since the UCSF affiliation. “The families we serve depend on receiving care that’s close to home. Making vulnerable East Bay families, struggling to make ends meet, trek across the Bay for medical care isn’t being efficient, it’s being cruel. It’s a bridge too far.”

Several hundred workers, including medical technicians, housekeepers, office workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists and nursing assistants participated in the picket. They were joined by community and elected leaders including Oakland Councilmembers Carol Fife, Dan Kalb and Janani Ramachandran, who spoke during a spirited rally.

“I can only imagine the burden of being a parent having to traverse to San Francisco to get the world class care that (should be available in Oakland),” Fife told workers. “That is not acceptable. I will not stand for it and none of us will stand for it.”

The picket was covered by KTVU-2, KRON-4, KCBS Radio and CBS Bay Area.

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland is one of five Level One pediatric trauma centers in California. The hospital accepts all patients no matter their income level or insurance status, and more than 70 percent of patients get their health coverage through Medi-Cal. While a 2014 affiliation agreement that put UCSF Health in control of the non-profit 223-bed Oakland hospital was touted as the best approach for strengthening the institution’s finances, doctors and other caregivers in the East Bay have repeatedly raised concerns about UCSF under-resourcing care in the East Bay and making families travel across the Bay to UCSF’s children’s hospital in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

“I’ve had families call to ask why they have to go to San Francisco when they want to go to Oakland or our satellite clinic in Walnut Creek,” said Cecilia Morales, an office associate at the hospital. “UCSF’s executives sitting in their San Francisco offices think they can do whatever they want in the East Bay, but we’re determined to make them as committed to serving East Bay kids as we are.”

Fears of further cutbacks have only increased after the President and CEO of UCSF Health Suresh Gunasekaran sent a warning that UCSF Health is projecting a $200 million budget shortfall in 2023 and warning that it must “operate more efficiently.”

UCSF’s track-record in the East Bay is fueling concerns:

  • In 2018, approximately 120 doctors at the hospital signed a letter to UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, warning that UCSF was concentrating specialized care at its Mission Bay campus in San Francisco, rendering the Oakland hospital a second-class facility.
  • In 2020, UCSF laid off workers and closed the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), which was renowned for its work on sickle cell anemia.
  • In 2021, workers held a Town Hall with community members to raise awareness about UCSF sending East Bay patients to San Francisco for care they could have received in the East Bay, including orthopedic and cardiology services. In 2014, the last year before UCSF’s Mission Bay campus opened, Children’s Hospital Oakland performed 188 cardiac surgeries. In 2021, the hospital only performed 44 cardiac surgeries compared to 224 at Mission Bay.
  • Many services at Children’s Hospital Oakland have been severely understaffed including respiratory therapy and the operating room. Staffing for specialized early intervention services has been cut in half, and caseloads are so high for occupational therapists that children leaving the NICU are put on waiting lists for feeding therapy.

In contract negotiations, workers are insisting on a provision that would require UCSF to provide at least nine months advance notice of any plans to cut medical services or jobs in the East Bay. This would help workers rally community support to preserve services, but UCSF has so far rejected the proposal.

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