UNION RESCHEDULES KAISER PERMANENTE STRIKE POSTPONED AFTER CEO’S DEATH

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The health system’s senior vice president of national labor relations said the conflict is resolvable, ‘and there is no reason to strike.’

A five-day strike that was postponed last month after the sudden death of Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson is back on the calendar.

Thousands of psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses, and other healthcare professionals plan to strike December 16–20 at more than 100 Kaiser Permanente facilities across California, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) said Wednesday.

“Mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long,” said Ken Rogers, PsyD, MEd, a Kaiser Permanente clinical psychologist who serves as a vice president on the NUHW executive board, in a statement released by the union.

“We’re ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn’t force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads,” Rogers said. “But Kaiser needs to show that it’s committed to fixing its system and treating patients and caregivers fairly.”

The union accuses Kaiser Permanente of refusing to negotiate unless mental health clinicians agree to “significantly poorer retirement and health benefits” than those received by its more than 120,000 other California employees.

Dennis Dabney, senior vice president of national labor relations and the Office of Labor Management Partnership at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, said the parties have been working together with an external mediator in pursuit of a collective bargaining agreement. The union rejected a compromise solution proposed last week by the mediator, Dabney said.

“The only issues actively in negotiation in Northern California are related to wage increases and the amount of administrative time that therapists have beyond patient time,” Dabney said. “We believe these issues are resolvable and there is no reason to strike.”

The mediator’s recommendation includes about 3% in annual wage increases for therapists in Northern California for four years, plus a $2,600 retroactive bonus, Dabney said

“In Southern California, the primary contract concern relates to wage increases and retirement benefits,” Dabney said.

The mediator’s recommendation includes about 3% in annual wage increases for therapists in Southern California for four years, plus a $2,600 retroactive bonus, even though the organization’s therapists in Southern California “are paid nearly 35% above market,” Dabney said.

“Rather than calling for a strike, NUHW’s leadership should continue to engage with the mediator and Kaiser Permanente to resolve these issues,” Dabney said.

 

 

 

University of Chicago Medical Center closes level 1 trauma center ahead of strike

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/human-resources/university-of-chicago-medical-center-closes-level-1-trauma-center-ahead-of-strike.html

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University of Chicago Medical Center has closed its level 1 trauma center for adult and pediatric patients as it prepares for about 2,200 nurses to go on strike next week, medical center leaders announced.

Medical center leaders said UCMC closed its pediatric level 1 trauma program Nov. 18 and its adult trauma program Nov. 20. Its adult and pediatric emergency rooms continue to take walk-in patients.

Nurses are scheduled to strike Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving. The nurses also walked off the job Sept. 20 in a strike organized by National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. They were allowed to return to work Sept. 25, after the medical center said it fulfilled its contract with temporary nurses to replace the striking ones for five days.

In preparation for the strike, UCMC announced earlier this week that it is moving about 50 babies and 20 children in its neonatal and pediatric intensive care units to other facilities.

UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe is also recruiting about 900 replacement nurses.

However, “it’s exceptionally difficult to hire people who are willing to leave their families during Thanksgiving,” she said in a news release. “At the same time, other hospitals in the city are already at or near capacity, which means they will not be able accept transfers of current inpatients if that need arises when nurses walk out. The combination of the two led us to take the step of temporarily closing our trauma program ahead of the strike.”

UCMC said the hospital was required to offer replacement nurses five days of work “to best recruit qualified and experienced replacement nurses.” Therefore, the nurses on strike will not be able to return to work until 7 a.m. Dec. 1.

Negotiations between UCMC and National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United began earlier this year. Medical center leaders say incentive pay — and whether the hospital should end the pay for newly hired nurses — is a sticking point in negotiations, according to the Chicago Tribune. The union has continued to express concerns about staffing levels.

The nurses said they plan to strike unless an agreement is reached.

 

 

 

 

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

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The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

Kaiser Permanente, which just narrowly averted one massive strike, is facing another one Monday.

The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

As the labor disputes have played out loudly, ricocheting off the bargaining table and into the public realm, some critics believe that the nonprofit health system is becoming more like its for-profit counterparts and is no longer living up to its foundational ideals.

Compensation for CEO Bernard Tyson topped $16 million in 2017, making him the highest-paid nonprofit health system executive in the nation. The organization also is building a $900 million flagship headquarters in Oakland. And it bid up to $295 million to become the Golden State Warriors’ official health care provider, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The deal gave the health system naming rights for the shopping and restaurant complex surrounding the team’s new arena in San Francisco, which it has dubbed “Thrive City.”

The organization reported $2.5 billion in net income in 2018 and its health plan sits on about $37.6 billion in reserves.

Against that backdrop of wealth, more than 80,000 employees were poised to strike last month over salaries, retirement benefits and concerns over outsourcing and subcontracting. Nearly 4,000 members of its mental health staff in California are threatening to walk out Monday over the long wait times their patients face for appointments.

“Kaiser’s primary mission, based on their nonprofit status, is to serve a charitable mission,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. “The question is, do they need such an excessive, fancy flagship space? Or should they save money to help the poor and increase employee salaries?”

Lawmakers in California, Kaiser Permanente’s home state, recently targeted it with a new financial transparency law aimed at determining why its premiums continue to increase.

There’s a growing suspicion “that these nonprofit hospitals are not here purely for charitable missions, but instead are working to expand market share,” Bai said.

The scrutiny marks a disorienting role-reversal for Kaiser, an integrated system that acts as both health insurer and medical provider, serving 12.3 million patients and operating 39 hospitals across eight states and the District of Columbia. The bulk of its presence is in California. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Many health systems have tried to imitate its model for delivering affordable health care, which features teams of salaried doctors and health professionals who work together closely, and charges few if any extraneous patient fees. It emphasizes caring and community with slogans like “Health isn’t an industry. It’s a cause,” and “We’re all in this together. And together, we thrive.”

Praised by President Barack Obama for its efficiency and high-quality care, the health maintenance organization has tried to set itself apart from its profit-hungry, fee-for-service counterparts.

Now, its current practices — financial and medical — are getting a more critical look.

As a nonprofit, Kaiser doesn’t have to pay local property and sales taxes, state income taxes and federal corporate taxes, in exchange for providing “charity care and community benefits” — although the federal government doesn’t specify how much.

As a percentage of its total spending, Kaiser Permanente’s charity care spending has decreased from 1.29% in 2012 to 0.8% in 2017. Other hospitals in California have exhibited a similar decrease, saying there are fewer uninsured patients who need help since the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage.

CEO Tyson told California Healthline that he limits operating income to about 2% of revenue, which pays for things like capital improvements, community benefit programs and “the running of the company.”

“The idea we’re trying to maximize profit is a false premise,” he said.

The organization is different from many other health systems because of its integrated model, so comparisons are not perfect, but its operating margins were smaller and more stable than other large nonprofit hospital groups in California. AdventHealth’s operating margin was 7.15% in 2018, while Dignity Health had losses in 2016 and 2017.

Tyson said that executive compensation is a “hotspot” for any company in a labor dispute. “In no way would I try to justify it or argue against it,” he said of his salary. In addition to his generous compensation, the health plan paid 35 other executives more than $1 million each in 2017, according to its tax filings.

Even its board members are well-compensated. In 2017, 13 directors each received between $129,000 and $273,000 for what its tax filings say is five to 10 hours of work a week.

And that $37.6 billion in reserves? It’s about 17 times more than the health plan is required by the state to maintain, according to the California Department of Managed Health Care.

Kaiser Permanente said it doesn’t consider its reserves excessive because state regulations don’t account for its integrated model. These reserves represent the value of its hospitals and hundreds of medical offices in California, plus the information technology they rely on, it said.

Kaiser Permanente said its new headquarters will save at least $60 million a year in operating costs because it will bring all of its Oakland staffers under one roof. It justified the partnership with the Warriors by noting it spans 20 years and includes a community gathering space that will provide health services for both members and the public.

Kaiser has a right to defend its spending, but “it’s hard to imagine a nearly $300 million sponsorship being justifiable,” said Michael Rozier, an assistant professor at St. Louis University who studies nonprofit hospitals.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West was about to strike in October before reaching an agreement with Kaiser Permanente.

Democratic presidential candidates Kamala HarrisBernie SandersElizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, as well as 132 elected California officials, supported the cause.

California legislators this year adopted a bill sponsored by SEIU California that will require the health system to report its financial data to the state by facility, as opposed to reporting aggregated data from its Northern and Southern California regions, as it currently does. This data must include expenses, revenues by payer and the reasons for premium increases.

Other hospitals already report financial data this way, but the California legislature granted Kaiser Permanente an exemption when reporting began in the 1970s because it is an integrated system. This created a financial “black hole” said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill’s author.

“They’re the biggest game in town,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer group Health Access California. “With great power comes great responsibility and a need for transparency.”

Patient care, too, is under scrutiny.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care fined the organization $4 million over mental health wait times in 2013, and in 2017 hammered out an agreement with it to hire an outside consultant to help improve access to care. The department said Kaiser Permanente has so far met all the requirements of the settlement.

But according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is planning Monday’s walkout, wait times have just gotten worse.

Tyson said mental health care delivery is a national issue — “not unique to Kaiser Permanente.” He said the system is actively hiring more staff, contracting with outside providers and looking into using technology to broaden access to treatment.

At a mid-October union rally in Oakland, therapists said the health system’s billions in profits should allow it to hire more than one mental health clinician for every 3,000 members, which the union says is the current ratio.

Ann Rivello, 50, who has worked periodically at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center since 2000, said therapists are so busy they struggle to take bathroom breaks and patients wait about two months between appointments for individual therapy.

“Just take $100 million that they’re putting into the new ‘Thrive City’ over there with the Warriors,” she said. “Why can’t they just give it to mental health?”

 

 

 

‘We have not lost our way’: Kaiser CEO’s memo to staff after Labor Day protests

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/we-have-not-lost-our-way-kaiser-ceo-s-memo-to-staff-after-labor-day-protests.html

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Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, sent a memo to his staff Sept. 3 to address Labor Day protests employees held in five cities amid threats of a potential nationwide strike.  

In the memo, obtained by Becker’s Hospital Review, Mr. Tyson claims leaders of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers used the protests to “deliver a false narrative” and “misconstrue what is really happening with [contract] negotiations.”

SEIU-UHW is one of the 16 international unions representing Kaiser employees, and one of three unions that form the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. The coalition’s bargaining team and Kaiser have been negotiating a new contract for workers, as the current contract is set to expire this month. The coalition alleges Kaiser is using unfair labor practices and prioritizing profits over patients. Last month, union members voted to authorize a nationwide strike that would affect more than 80,000 Kaiser employees nationwide.

“Kaiser Permanente has put multiple options on the table for Coalition/SEIU-UHW leadership to consider, and we remain open to these options within the established parameters consistent with all our 60 unions,” Mr. Tyson wrote in the memo. The 16 international unions that represent Kaiser employees are divided into 60 local unions, each of which has its own contract.

Mr. Tyson said Kaiser has always been committed to working collaboratively and forging positive relationships with the unions representing its 165,000 employees.

“Going forward, we will respond more definitively to allegations against our organization’s stellar brand and reputation. We have not lost our way,” Mr. Tyson wrote. “We have an incredible workforce and will always treat them with dignity and respect, along with offering market competitive wages and benefits fit for the times.”

 

 

 

 

Healthcare Executives See a Mixed Outlook

https://www.jpmorgan.com/commercial-banking/insights/healthcare-mixed-outlook

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In a recent survey of healthcare leaders, most were confident about their own organizations going into the new year. But respondents expressed concern about a range of evolving industry-wide challenges, including costs, technology and talent.

A majority of US healthcare executives surveyed by J.P. Morgan said they were optimistic about the financial performance of their own organizations going into 2019, as well as the national and local economies. But most were less positive about the outlook for the industry as a whole, with 28 percent expressing pessimism and another 31 percent merely neutral.

National economy 71% optimistic, 20% neutral, 9% pessimistic
Healthcare Industry's performance 41% optimistic, 31% neutral, 28% pessimistic
Your organization's performance 62% optimistic, 13% neutral, 25% pessimistic
Legend - Optimistic, Blue
Legend: Neutral Gray
Legend: Pessimistic, Green

Respondents to the survey, conducted Oct. 16 to Nov. 2 of 2018, said their biggest concerns were revenue growth, rising expenses and labor costs. The executives said their organizations plan to invest the most in information technology and physician recruitment.

Healthcare Changes Shape Perceptions

The pessimism about the industry likely stems, in part, from regulatory uncertainty and an ongoing shift from a fee-for-service model toward a value-based payment system, said Will Williams, Senior Healthcare Industry Executive within J.P. Morgan’s Commercial Banking Healthcare group. “Healthcare is going through the most transition of any industry in the country right now,” he said. Amid this upheaval, healthcare organizations face a combination of challenges, including lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare patients, increased competition, and higher costs for labor, pharmaceuticals and technology investments.

The optimism that executives feel about their own hospital or healthcare group may come from a sense that an individual organization can adapt to industry changes, said Jenny Edwards, Commercial Banker in the healthcare practice at J.P. Morgan. “You can control certain factors, and make adjustments to compensate for the headwinds.”

Biggest Challenges for the New Year

Growth Strategies

For 61 percent of respondents, the focus is on attracting new patients, followed by expanding target markets or lines of business (53 percent), and expanding or diversifying product and service offerings (44 percent). Hospitals, for example, have worked to add more patients to their broader healthcare system by opening clinics for urgent care or physical therapy, Edwards said.

As patient habits change, hospital systems have needed to become more consumer-focused, Edwards said. Patients are more likely to shop around for their care, expect transparent pricing and review healthcare workers on social media sites. This “retail-ization” trend in healthcare is accelerating, Edwards said. “You can shop for healthcare like you would a new pair of jeans.”

Skilled Talent Wanted

The talent shortage is top of mind for many healthcare executives, with 92 percent of survey respondents saying they were at least somewhat concerned with finding candidates with the right skill set. For 35 percent of respondents, the talent shortage is one of their top three challenges.

For those respondents who expressed concern, the most difficulty arises in filling positions for physicians (52 percent) and nurses (46 percent). To address the challenge, 76 percent said they expect to increase compensation of their staff over the next 12 months. According to 37 percent of respondents, the talent pool’s high compensation expectations factor into the shortage.

Most Challenging Positions to Fill

52%
46%
38%
29%
21%
21%

The talent shortage is an issue across the industry, Williams said, and burnout among doctors and nurses presents an ongoing problem. One contributing cause could be evolving changes in daily practice, with considerably more time today spent on electronic medical record entries and less on patient care. Williams said, “Doctors are getting frustrated. The problem is trying to replace those doctors as they quit practicing.”

Healthcare executives are particularly concerned about shortages of primary care professionals. “Rural communities already have these shortages,” said Brendan Corrigan, Vice Chair of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Council.

Labor costs tend to be higher in healthcare than in other sectors, Williams said, as a hospital must have coverage for all of its major roles 24 hours a day. When asked where they struggle with workforce management, the survey respondents cite staff turnover and its associated cost (47 percent), the ability to flex staff based on patient volumes (41 percent), and the cost of overtime and premium labor (36 percent). These workforce issues not only represent specific challenges; they all contribute to labor costs, which, as noted above, rank in the top three challenges for 2019.

Investments for a Changing Industry

A majority (51 percent) of organizations plan to invest in IT over the next 12 months. Other areas for investment included physician recruitment (44 percent) and new or replacement facilities (36 percent).

Since healthcare organizations manage a large amount of private patient health information, data security remains a large part of IT expenditures. “It’s a huge focus—they’re spending a lot of time and money on preventing a breach,” Edwards said. She goes on to note that the transition to patient EMR systems brings another big IT expense—more than $1 billion for the largest healthcare systems.

Overall, the survey showed healthcare executives grappling with rising costs and structural changes that affect the entire industry. “Healthcare is trying to figure out how to fix themselves,” Williams said.