LANCASTER – Nearly 100 employees at Antelope Valley Hospital were put on notice as early as Tuesday in what is part of a cost-saving measure for the health care facility.
The boilerplate termination letter, which was mailed to an undetermined number of hospital employees on Sept. 9, warns the layoff will affect a total of 105 employees. Signed by the hospital’s Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, George L. Leisher, Jr., the letter informs its recipients that their final workday will be Oct. 10, and that they will continue to receive regular pay and benefits up to Nov. 10, the effective date of their termination. [View the letter here.]
The California Nurses Association responded to the news by sending representatives to the hospital Wednesday to provide informational pamphlets to “every registered nurse at the facility,” a source at the hospital told The AV Times.
The hospital’s decision is not being taken lightly by the registered nurses’ union, according to the statement provided in the CNA flyer.
“Contrary to what they are telling all of you, CNA had no notice the hospital intended to lay off any nurses,” the pamphlet stated, explaining that the nurses’ union was told Wednesday of the hospital’s intention to lay off registered nurses.
In reaction to the hospital’s proposed layoffs, the CNA has sent administration officials a “Demand to Bargain” along with a “Notice to Cease and Desist Change in Working Conditions,” according to the pamphlet.
CNA also challenged a statement, by AV Hospital CEO Dennis Knox, that claimed “none of the staffing changes will negatively impact the quality of patient care.”
Union representatives want to know how this is possible when the hospital is cutting jobs in essential service areas such as Respiratory, Phlebotomy, EKG and Monitor Techs. The CNA pamphlet calls further attention to the unlikely notion in Knox’s Sept. 6 email that “care will be enhanced through more efficient operations and a restructuring of some responsibilities…” [View the CNA flyer here.]
Sean Wherley, spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), shared the same concern, saying his organization is concerned not only with its non-nursing healthcare workers impacted by the layoffs at AV Hospital, but also with the impacts on quality of care for the community.
“Our goal is to ensure that community residents have access to the best care, and we will work to maintain that and protect as many jobs as possible during this uncertain financial time,” Wherley told The AV Times.
According to a source – who is among those who received a termination letter from hospital officials – about 95 workers were put on notice so far. Though unconfirmed by The AV Times, the employee said the number of terminations include 35 in the Laboratory, which is more than half of that department; 24 in Respiratory; the entire EKG department, which includes about 12 personnel; and all of the Monitor Techs, comprised of about 12 people who monitor patients’ heart rates at the hospital.
AV Hospital officials did not return calls in response to how quality of patient care would be impacted by the upcoming layoffs. However, administrators have revealed publicly that reductions to the hospital’s workforce would not be carried out in areas relating to patient care – in other words, staff reductions would take place in areas of support.
But those affected by layoffs in essential service areas – like Respiratory, Phlebotomy, EKG and Monitor Techs – cannot help but to wonder if the hospital’s announced terminations would impact the quality of patient care provided by registered nurses.
“These nurses are going to have to realize they need to be further certified in all these additional procedures that they are going to be expected to perform now – now that we’re no longer supposed to be working there after a month,” an employee slated to be laid off said.
Hospital administrators are faced with the dilemma of cutting jobs because of the hospital’s financial troubles – mostly from having been shorted about $6 million in anticipated government reimbursements for services it provided nonpaying hospital patients, according to recent publicly disclosed statements by officials.
Speaking for United Healthcare Workers West, Wherley does not fault the hospital for its financial conflict. Rather, he said that cost reimbursements for medical care is a growing concern throughout the state.
“The reimbursements that doctors receive from certain low-income patients is the lowest in the country,” he explained. “So the state of California would reimburse Antelope Valley for providing care for someone who is on Medi-Cal. Well, when that rate drops so low, they’re not even getting enough to cover their costs; and so that puts a tremendous strain on the facility.”
Wherley said his organization believes the situation speaks to an opportunity to reform Medi-Cal. “And if we don’t act on it, it’s going to affect more and more hospitals, like Antelope Valley,” he said. “And that’s why our union is working statewide to create a new system – one that maintains care and provides ample funding for hospitals so we won’t have to experience layoffs like this due to financial hardship.”
Officials at Antelope Valley Hospital did not respond Thursday to questions regarding the announced layoffs.
The 420-bed public hospital is the Antelope Valley’s largest full-service, nonprofit hospital. Operating as part of the Antelope Valley Healthcare District, AV Hospital serves about 235 patients a day in in-patient care.