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Seton workers picket over cuts to services and health benefits

NUHW members at Seton Medical Center in Daly City were joined by elected and community leaders on the picket line December 16 to warn residents that reckless cost-cutting by the hospital’s new owner is once again jeopardizing the survival of a safety-net facility that has served primarily low-income immigrant communities in Northern San Mateo County and San Francisco for generations.

Nearly 200 people participated in the informational picket outside the hospital, where AHMC Healthcare is gutting patient care services, refusing to fix broken medical equipment, failing to provide critical medical supplies, and cutting employee health benefits to the point that many caregivers can’t afford to easily access health care themselves.

Making matters even worse, just a few days before the picket, AHMC announced that it would layoff 33 workersnext month, 16 of whom have worked at Seton for more than 20 years.

“AHMC is the worst operator we’ve ever seen at Seton,” said Christina Caradis, a radiologic technologist who lives in Daly City and has worked at the hospital for 26 years. “They’re not able to provide basic needs for the hospital or patients. We have old technology that doesn’t work and machines that have not been fixed. I take pride in serving my community, but it’s heartbreaking to witness the decline of our hospital and the impact it has on patients.”

The picket was covered by ABC-7, KQED, Sing Tao, ABS-CBN, KRON-4, and CBS News.

Since AHMC assumed control of the hospital on January 1, 2021, after buying it out of bankruptcy court, the Southern California for-profit operator has proceeded with required seismic retrofits, funded partly through grants from San Mateo County, but it has allowed medical services inside the hospital to collapse. Over the past three years, AHMC has:

  • Surrendered Seton’s Advanced Stroke Certification, in violation of its agreement with the California Attorney General’s Office to purchase the hospital.
  • Stopped providing 24/7 radiology services, forcing patients to wait days for procedures.
  • Reduced wound care services.
  • Failed to pay vendors, resulting in frequent credit holds that prevent workers from obtaining critical medical supplies.
  • Refused to fix broken equipment, including the service elevator needed to safely transfer patients throughout the hospital.

“AHMC is absolutely unreliable,” said Dan Malouf, a radiologic technologist at the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab. “There are times we don’t have all the equipment we need, and patients aren’t getting the optimal care they deserve because vendors have put the hospital on credit holds. The way AHMC operates this hospital is completely unethical. This isn’t a supermarket. We’re dealing with people’s lives.”

In a recent NUHW survey of workers, 75 percent of respondents listed “fixing hospital equipment” as a top priority in bargaining their next contract.

“It’s scary being a patient at Seton right now,” said John Paes, a respiratory therapist at the hospital for 26 years. “There are a lot of services not being offered, a lot of equipment that doesn’t work and a lot of departments that are open only part-time. AHMC said that things would get better after the seismic retrofit, but there are so many procedures we can’t do anymore.”

Elected officials spoke at a rally to support workers and demand that AHMC save jobs and restore services. Speakers included Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manolo, Daly City Councilmember Pam DiGiovanni, South San Francisco Mayor James Coleman, and Elaine Vilasper, the interim executive director of the Filipino Community Center, who spoke about her experience as a Seton patient.

“Thank you for giving us a voice and giving us a space for fighting back against the unrealistic cuts that AHMC has been doing — not just to you, but to our community,” Vilasper said. “And we will be right beside you standing up and fighting back until you win a fair contract; until you get your layoffs rescinded; and until you get the budget you deserve to upgrade your facilities, to upgrade your equipment, and to provide the healthcare that this community deserves.”

Not counting AHMC’s planned layoff of 33 workers next month, staff represented by NUHW had already decreased 18 percent since AHMC purchased Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside, a nearby skilled nursing facility, from Verity Health following a bankruptcy proceeding.

Workers anticipate even more departures in the coming year because AHMC, in violation of its union contracts, has moved to unilaterally cut employee healthcare benefits. The benefit reduction, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2024, would force many workers into an extremely limited HMO-style plan that contracts with only a few small medical groups and only provides non-emergency hospitalization services at Seton and John Muir facilities.

“Under the new plan, there aren’t any local doctors or hospitals covered,” said Suad Husary, a respiratory therapist, who has worked at the hospital for 27 years, and now lives in Rohnert Park. “How do you expect me to drive two hours just to see a doctor? They’re trying to push people out the door.”

Seton Medical Center provides the closest emergency room for thousands of residents of Northern San Mateo County and sections of San Francisco. The Daughters of Charity founded the hospital in 1893. In 2015, Verity Health Systems assumed control of the hospital through bankruptcy proceedings, but then later filed for bankruptcy itself, leading to the sale to AHMC, which signed an agreement with the California Attorney General’s Office to maintain acute-care hospital services through 2025.

AHMC, which also owns nine hospitals in Southern California,reported a $42.1 million profit in 2022. Meanwhile, caregivers agreed to go without raises for three years to help place Seton hospital on firmer financial footing, and many continue to stay because they are committed to serving patients in their community.

“The situation makes us feel very sad,” Paes said. “A lot of us are hanging on because we’ve been like a family. It’s hard to break that bond, but it hurts because of how AHMC is treating us and our patients.”

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