Some health care workers and patients of the Seton Medical Center in Daly City are pushing forward in a campaign calling for action to protect jobs and preserve services with the impending sale of the hospital.
Employees and union representatives have expressed some anxiety about their jobs since the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul announced several months ago that it was seeking a buyer for Seton's parent organization, the Daughters of Charity Health System, a family of six California facilities.
Among other concerns raised are potential impacts to services with the sale of the facility. Seton nurses Steve Bates and Debra Amour recently told Daly City City Council members that they've spoken with patients worried about whether they would still be able to obtain care if the sale brings department closures or changes in who the hospital serves.
This concern was echoed by Mayor David Canepa, who had previously joined with Seton Medical Center employees to participate in a candlelight vigil demonstration calling for the hospital to continue operating as a full-service facility that provides care to low-income patients. With about 1,500 employees, Seton is Daly City's largest employer, and a major provider of health care to disadvantaged and uninsured north San Mateo County residents.
Nurse Malou Young said that while the hospital has been holding monthly meetings to keep employees informed about the sale process, she'd like to see more transparency from administrators regarding any anticipated changes.
Daughters of Charity Health System spokeswoman Elizabeth Nikels said the decision to sell the medical center was a difficult one that involved much analysis. She said the likely sale reflects the "harsh" realities of modern health care, and the fact that a buyer with greater resources might be better able help the health system fulfill its mission.
Labor representative Phuong Tran said the nurses and staff are not just interested in protecting their jobs, but have personal stakes in Seton's patient community.
"Many of these workers live in Daly City, and this is where they take their mothers and fathers for health care," Tran said.
Some Seton employees have suggested that the hospital might close its urgent-care or emergency departments if it changed hands. Asked if such an argument might be fear-mongering, Tran explained that when hospitals are taken over by investors, it's not uncommon for them to look at closing unprofitable departments.
She added that even with the Affordable Care Act covering costs of emergency visits for low-income patients, running an emergency department can still be expensive, because Medicaid often pays less than private insurers for emergency room visits. According to the California Nurses Association, 74 percent of Seton's patients are Medicare or Medi-Cal recipients, with just over 20 percent being covered by private insurance.
If Seton were to close some departments or stop serving low-income patients, this could create hardships for those who would be forced to travel to the county hospital in San Mateo, which can take 30 minutes to reach by car, and much longer via public transportation, Tran said.
Nikels noted that finding a buyer that would continue to serve Seton's existing clients without eliminating services was a top priority for her organization.
But Phuong countered that reassuring statements are not the same as the guarantees her bargaining group is seeking in support of employees and patients.
Canepa said he would also like to see some response to the hospital community's call to action.
"I was born at Seton," he said. "This is personal, and you'd better believe I'm going to fight to make sure this hospital stays open and continues to serve our most vulnerable residents."