Frontline Workers Are HCMC’s Greatest Asset

We work at Hennepin County Medical Center and we are shocked by our CEO’s account of 200 layoffs (HCMC was dealt tough hand, but we’ll persevere, Star Tribune Counterpoint, March 4, 2017).

Dr. Jon Pryor writes, “We’ve worked hard to minimize the loss of jobs and patient services, and we have done our best to ensure that the workforce reductions have been equitable and respectful.”

The brunt of the layoffs will impact members of our union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).  We are schedulers, custodians, pharmacy and accounting staff.  We are older workers, mostly people of color and union activists.  The way we got our pink slips was unfair and disrespectful with reckless disregard for our union contract and our input.

We’re deeply concerned that the elimination of our positions will compromise the quality of care that patients deserve when they visit our world-class hospital and clinics.  

Dr. Pryor is one of Minnesota’s highest-paid public employees with a $700,000 annual salary, plus bonuses.  He is qualified with medical degrees, a career as a urologic surgeon, and clinic management experience. 

HCMC’s Board of Directors say Pryor’s success will hinge on his ability to attract a greater number of privately insured patients, who can boost HCMC’s revenue.  That's no easy task when HCMC competes with new suburban hospitals that feel like a spa.  Our system sees 150,000 patients a year.  It's common for us to treat homeless people, crime victims and CEOs all in the same day.

When people choose a health-care system, nothing matters more than the staff.  Dr. Pryor seems to have forgotten this lesson.  The workers he is laying off are the first point of contact for new patients who call to schedule an appointment.  We help patients set up their insurance coverage and get their bills paid so all they have to worry about is getting well.  We make sure they get the medications they need to live healthy.  We calm family members during medical emergencies.  And we don't go home until the rooms are clean and the hospital is sanitary.  Physicians and nurses can't do their jobs without us.

We strive for excellence and we take pride in our work.  We treat every patient with kindness, dignity and respect.  And we expect the same in return from our employer.

If Dr. Pryor is serious about fairness and respect, we suggest he partner with us to improve efficiency and service delivery.  Frontline workers have plenty of suggestions to reduce costs without job loss.  Unfortunately, management never asked for our input.  

These are AFSCME's principles for creating a world-class health-care system.

First, give workers job security and we will embrace change.  This is critical now with the consolidation of 30 HCMC clinics coupled with uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and state reimbursements for charity care hospitals.

Second, drive fear from the workplace by guaranteeing that every worker will have a job with equal or greater pay and benefits after reorganization.  If that job is a different job that requires new skills, the employer will provide the training that the worker needs.  Retaining dedicated workers matters because temps and vendors don’t share our commitment to HCMC.

Third, move more resources to the point of service where it matters most to patients.  Minnesota depends on our emergency room and trauma center, where adequate staffing can mean the difference between life and death.

Fourth, flatten organizational hierarchy; i.e., fewer managers and more frontline workers.

Fifth, involve frontline workers in identifying ways to improve efficiency and service delivery.

Finally, recognize that HCMC's greatest asset is its frontline staff.  We are the heart and soul of the system.  Without us, people will not say, "Take me to HCMC."

Carmen Brown is president of AFSCME Local 977 and Sara Franck is president of AFSCME Local 2474.  They work at Hennepin County Medical Center.