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Workers hold ‘informational picket’ at hospital
By MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Service Employees International Union workers at Olympic Medical Center brought their issues to the public with an “informational” streetside picket held at the hospital Wednesday, April 6.
The picketers, most of them members of SEIU Local 1199NW, included dietary workers, nurses, central supply and service and maintenance workers.
While other issues were discussed, including adequate staffing, topic one for the day was a proposal by OMC management to require workers to pay a bigger portion of their health care premiums.
Registered nurse Mary Reynolds told those in attendance, “I think it’s outrageous that OMC wants to make it harder for us to have health care. We will not let OMC raise the cost of health care for our families. It’s an attack on our families.”
Gina Hoagland, a nurse in the Critical Care Unit, said, “For them to get me to try to pay so much for my husband and family is heresy. I would be taking a pay cut.”
Several of the protestors took their message to the board of commissioners at the board’s regular semi-monthly meeting held later that day.
After listening to the comments of the workers, board President Jim Cammack read a prepared statement, saying, “While we fully support our employees’ right to peaceful picketing and we honor public comment periods at each board meeting, we want the public and our employees to recognize the unprecedented financial challenges facing OMC.
“OMC is facing proposed reimbursement cuts from Washington state that total millions of dollars.”
Cammack said the hospital’s goals “include maintaining services for our community and jobs for our valued and hardworking employees.”
Health care costs rising
The subject of health care costs arose again later in the meeting as Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis provided the board with details on the hospital’s financial health. He told the board that by Feb. 28, OMC had endured a year-to-date loss of $244,058. The annual budget had projected a net profit of $291,704 through the same period.
Lewis said the recession is alive and well on the peninsula, which has led to less business for the hospital. Admissions for the first two months are down 4 percent from 2010, and “adjusted patient days” have dropped by 3.4 percent.
Lewis added that OMC is “getting paid less for Medicare than last year,” and is looking at big cuts to Medicaid.
Chief Financial Officer Julie Rukstad said rising costs for health care coverage are also hurting the bottom line. She said the hospital’s cost of providing health care is up 15 percent, which will cost OMC an additional $1.4 million in 2011.
Rhonda Curry, OMC’s assistant administrator for strategic development, said hospital managers and the board are proud of the wages and benefits offered to the workers. She also noted that “all OMC employees are covered under the same plan.”
“At OMC, half-time employees (20 hours per week) receive the exact same medical benefit coverage as full-time employees,” she said.
OMC is now proposing what Curry called “a small cost-share of medical benefits.”
She described the changes, saying OMC will continue to pay 100 percent of the premium for every employee working half-time up to full-time, but will bump up the cost for covering the spouse or dependents of the employee.
If the proposal is accepted, employees who work 32 hours or more a week will pay an additional $17 a month to cover a spouse, bringing the total to $251. In addition, full-time employees would for the first time pay for the health care coverage of their children: “approximately $95 a month for any number of children up to age 26,” Curry said.
Linnea Reisen, communications director for SEIU 1199NW, confirmed that figure, but said the jump for part-time employees with families will be much more substantial. The insurance payments for a part-time employee who purchases coverage for a spouse and dependents will climb from $234 a month to $692 a month.