The front entrance of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is shown. (Stefano Paltera / For the…)
SACRAMENTO — Facing a possible two-day strike next week by patient care and technical workers, the five large University of California medical centers are starting to cancel elective surgeries that had been scheduled as soon as Monday, officials said.
Emergency care will not be shut and patients already in the five hospitals across the state will continue to receive care. But many elective procedures will delayed until after the potential strike, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, according to John Stobo, UC's senior vice president for health sciences and services. Patients are being notified about the surgery delays at the hospitals in San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Davis, he said.
The union representing the 13,000 nursing assistants, scanning techs, operating room scrubs, respiratory experts and others threatening the strike said it will keep weekend-level staffing in critical areas such as respiratory therapy for intensive care, neonatal and burn units during a walkout.
In case of medical emergencies, some strikers will go back to work and then return to picket lines after the patients are treated, said Todd Stenhouse, spokesman for Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "The most important thing here is that patient safety be preserved," he said.
However, UC's Stobo, who was attending a UC regents meeting in Sacramento on Thursday, said a strike would inconvenience and possibly endanger patients. He said UC would hire temporary replacement workers during a strike, which he estimated could cost UC at least $15 million in lost revenue and extra pay over two days.
At UCLA's hospitals in Westwood and Santa Monica, for example, administrators are planning to hire 600 replacement workers through agencies and are preparing to train them and move them past picket lines, according to J. Thomas Rosenthal, chief medical officer there. He emphasized that about 25% of the nonessential medical procedures next week would be rescheduled if the strike occurs.
The five medical centers serve about 2,400 inpatients on an average day, plus many outpatients for such treatments as chemotherapy, according to UC. Stobo estimated that the number of inpatients could drop by 25% during a strike.
Some other unionized hospital workers say they will join the strike in sympathy.
While UC is seeking an injunction to prevent the strike, both sides said they now consider the walkout likely, starting at 4 a.m. Tuesday. AFSCME 3299 contends that negotiations need to focus on staffing levels that it claims have been dangerously reduced. UC says that the union refuses to accept a new pension plan, similar to that of many other state workers, that requires more employee contributions and reduces long-term benefits for new hires.