Former employees of healthcare clinics protest at El Camino district board meeting

Eric Davidove/Special to The Town Crier
Jean Cronin, center, and Millie Garcia, second from right, speak with fellow protesters at the conclusion of last week’s El Camino Healthcare District board meeting.

El Camino Healthcare District’s wholly owned subsidiary Silicon Valley Medical Development claims the five clinics it purchased from now-bankrupt Verity Healthcare have been functional since they opened under new management April 1. But former employees of the clinics paid the district’s board of directors a visit last week to communicate other- wise.

According to a press release from SEIU-UHW – the union representing approximately 130 employees left in limbo when Verity Healthcare changed hands – dozens of health-care workers volunteered to protest the situation at the May 8 meeting “to urge (them) to safely staff its facilities and retain skilled caregivers.”

In March, SVMD President Bruce Harrison said application reviews and interviews were being conducted to identify nonphysician personnel; physicians were just one of the “assets” acquired by the healthcare district affiliate in the $1 million purchase.

“SVMD has made it a priority to review applications and interview candidates who service patients at the clinics currently,” Harrison said at the time.

Despite the priority, SEIU-UHW contends that SVMD has refused to make permanent job offers to 115 employees across the five clinics, leaving the facilities “understaffed and unstable.”

SEIU-UHW spokeswoman Rekha Radhakrishnan said Thursday there are two camps of unemployed: 95 workers fulfilling their same job duties through a job with a temporary staffing agency and 20 workers who were offered nothing at all.

The faces behind the figures

Good Samaritan clinic employee Rena Schwartzberg, who worked at the facility for 29 years, is now one of the 95 temporary employees. She has delayed seeking care for her own medical needs because she is now working without health insurance, according to Radhakrishnan. Schwartzberg also has the burden of worrying about her 93-year-old mother, who relied on clinic staff for her care – staff who may no longer be employed.

Millie Garcia, a 24-year employee who worked at one of the San Jose clinics, was interviewed for the position she already held and was not offered the job. Her son has stage 4 cancer.

“The El Camino Hospital Board has an obligation to ensure its facilities are safely staffed and yet it threatened … patient care by refusing to retain the same employees who had built trust among their patients over decades,” Garcia said in SEIU-UHW’s statement. “I never received an explanation for why I wasn’t retained, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because I had taken family medical leave to assist my son.”

Competing narratives

Following the employee protest, SVMD spokeswoman Kris Naidl said the clinics “have been and continue to be fully staffed.”

Naidl also forwarded an official statement from Harrison that focuses on the new hires SVMD has made in the month following the reopening.

“We (have) directly hired 60 employees for critical positions,” Harrison said. “Other positions are still being staffed through contract agencies as we continue to analyze work flows and schedules to meet our patients’ needs.”

Harrison predicted additional offers would be made to fill more roles in the next 30-60 days.

“We continue to seek the best talent to fill our open positions,” he said in his statement. “Many of those 60 positions now have been filled by the same individuals who served in those or similar roles when the clinics were under previous ownership. We are proud to have secured them as SVMD employees and look forward to finalizing more employee roles in the coming weeks.”

Healthcare District spokeswoman Kelsey Martinez said the hospital and SEIU-UHW reached a tentative agreement for a new contract for hospital employees.

She offered no details about the contract, but a media advisory was set to follow after the Town Crier’s press deadline.

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