We are pleased to post the following op-ed in the Observer-Reporter from Melissa Duran, the chapter president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania at Washington Hospital, where she works as an EKG technician.
Observer-Reporter OP-ED: Washington can do better than UPMC
Aug 30, 2023
At one point or another in our lives, almost everyone in our area counts on Washington Hospital, its doctors, and us – the workers who care for patients and keep the hospital running. As Washington Hospital caregivers and staff, we are dedicated to providing the quality, hometown health care that is critical to ensuring a safe, healthy community, even during a pandemic. No matter how much money we have, what we look like, or what insurance card is in our wallet, Washington Hospital should be here for all of us.
That is why we are seriously concerned about the recent announcement of UPMC’s planned acquisition of Washington Health System.
Anyone who’s watched UPMC grow like a cancer over the last decade knows turning our local hospital into yet another outpost in UPMC’s expanding empire is not what Washington County residents need or deserve.
UPMC will blow smoke about what they will do for us, then do the opposite. Across the state, towns and communities like ours thought UPMC would be their savior, only to find their hospitals left with fewer services or closed doors.
Over the last 15 years, UPMC acquired then shuttered hospitals in Braddock, Lock Haven, Sunbury, and Lancaster, while reducing services in places like Bedford and McKeesport. In its drive to have a monopoly on health care in Pennsylvania, UPMC has turned its back on whole communities.
And the merger isn’t just bad for patients. UPMC’s expanding empire also lowers standards for workers, and that’s bad for everyone.
Hundreds of people depend on those paychecks from Washington Hospital. We have worked hard over decades to set standards in our union contract that guarantee these jobs are good jobs that support our families. The first thing UPMC could do if it takes over is renegotiate and gut our contract. We only have to look a few miles north to see what working for UPMC could mean for us.
In Pittsburgh, where UPMC employs three out of four hospital workers, 90% of hospital workers surveyed say they don’t have enough staff, and 93% say they are thinking of leaving their jobs. While staffing is improving in other hospitals, staffing at UPMC hospitals has steadily decreased.
As of 2020, UPMC staffing ratios are, on average, 19% lower than comparable non-UPMC staffing ratios. A recent wage study conducted by Econ One found that as UPMC controls more of our health care, it lowers wages for all health care workers. For example, UPMC housekeepers in Pittsburgh could earn about $4 an hour less than housekeepers at similar hospitals in other locations. That’s not only a problem for individual workers and families, but also a problem for our local economy.
As a community, we can do better than UPMC. We don’t need them coming into Washington like a wrecking ball. We helped build Washington Health System, and we should have a say in its future. Our families and neighbors work and receive care here, and we must have a seat at the table when big decisions are made that will impact that care.
Washington Health System must guarantee that every resident, regardless of what insurance they have, will still have in-network access to its doctors and services with a merger. Any merger must uphold our union contract and build on the standards we’ve worked hard to set for staff and patients.
Our region has a history of big companies coming to town, extracting all the money they can out of us, sending the profits elsewhere, and leaving us to pick up the pieces. It happened with coal and steel, and we can’t let that happen to our health care.
Melissa Duran is the chapter president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania at Washington Hospital, where she works as an EKG technician.