Illustration by Maren Slobody.
Illustration by Maren Slobody.

Earlier this month, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees chapter 3299 (AFSCME 3299) released a report entitled “A Question of Priorities,” which decried understaffing at several UC medical centers.

With over 22,000 members — including cooks, custodians, medical center workers and many more — AFSCME  3299 has long contested issues of worker treatment within the UC. Numerous UC medical center workers’ testimonies in April’s whistleblower report have said UC medical center staff cuts and overworking policies have become a dangerous trend.

Recently, according to the report, inadequate staffing at some UC medical centers has put patients in immediate jeopardy. At UC Irvine and UC San Francisco medical centers, some patients endured pressure sores from staying in one position too long, because medical center staff were stretched too thin. According to the report, the California Department of Health has cited UCI’s medical center for pressure sores on nine separate occasions within the last three years.

Todd Stenhouse, communications director for the local 3299 branch of AFSCME, said the UC medical centers’ decisions have resulted in insufficient care for patients.

“Accountability is the biggest part of this. We call for things like enforceable staffing standards within the UC system,” Stenhouse said. “[When] you go to the hospital, your grandma goes to the hospital or your friend goes, you want to make sure that the frontline care is adequately resourced, and that’s a function of budget priorities. There’s no such thing as cutting corners in a healthcare delivery system.”

In 2012, The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) reported that the revenue from the UCSF and UCLA medical centers increased by 16 percent in a three-year period. UC San Francisco medical center will be cutting 300 hospital positions this year. Deputy director of public affairs at UCSF Karin Rush-Monroe said the UC medical centers are not unique in financial woes and national health care reform has added new pressures.

“One of the primary mandates arising from health care reform is to advance the quality and safety of patient care, but at lower costs. Hospitals across the country are facing these pressures and UCSF Medical Center is no exception,” said Rush-Monroe in an e-mail.

President of the local 3299 branch of AFSCME, Kathryn Lybarger, said the UC has hired temporary workers in an effort to fill vacant spaces while increasing or maintaining revenue.

“Our folks are people who have gotten training in order to spend their work lives taking care of patients,” Lybarger said. “Increasingly what we’re seeing is that they’re filling what used to be full-time, career positions with folks who work for temporary organizations. Oftentimes these are new graduates who come with very little training.”

Amid budget and staff cuts, UCSF is planning to build a new medical center in the Mission Bay section of San Francisco to “meet unfunded state-mandated seismic requirements as well as to expand UCSF’s patient access,” Rush-Monroe said. She said UCSF is trying to combat the cuts in a number of ways.

“We plan to diversify and expand our revenue sources, use our new electronic  medical record to improve the quality of our documentation of care, improve the safety and efficiency of our care processes and aggressively negotiate with drug and supply manufacturers,” Rush-Monroe said. “However, more than half of our expenses are for our employees and we must also address these costs.”

The University Professional & Technical Employees union (UPTE) also works closely with the California Nurses Association and AFSCME to protect medical workers across the UC.

Secretary and interim president of UPTE for Local-3 UCSC, Phil Johnston, said understaffing is a university-wide issue. As a tech worker at UCSC, Johnston said he and his three coworkers currently carry out the expected workload of five or six employees.

“I know what it was like when the university had the funding they needed to execute their mission to the degree that they need to,” Johnston said. “Unfortunately, for the past 30 years, the funding has been gutted and it’s like death by a thousand cuts, literally. Budget cuts in this case.”