Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 27, 2010

Hospital lay-offs a shocker

With 3,000 employees and a brand new building, not to mention a recently acquired hospital in Los Gatos, El Camino Hospital does not have the profile of a struggling company.

But conventional wisdom went out the window on Aug. 12 when El Camino announced that it was sending notices to 195 employees, telling them they could be one of the 140 who would lose their full or part-time-jobs in the next 60 days. It was a shock to this small portion of the hospital's workforce, including 46 nurses who shared an award for administering top-notch care to thousands of patients this year.

The hospital's message was delivered by spokesperson Chris Ernst, who did not have a lot to say. "We've been trying really hard to avoid today," she said when announcing the lay-offs. She said the hospital had been impacted by the recession and has seen a "sustained decrease in patient activity." She said the cuts would cover all ranges of employees, from service-level to administrative workers.

In the weeks following the layoff announcement, disgruntled employees and others began the blame game, saying the hospital's new building is too costly with its automated robots delivering medications, and its plush lobby. And then there are the critics who say the hospital made a bad decision when it laid out $103 million to buy the Community Hospital of Los Gatos. That deal was approved by CEO Ken Graham and hospital board members, who said the purchase was necessary to give El Camino a place to grow, and bring more business to the hospital's specialized doctors and clinics at the Mountain View campus.

So far, it has been difficult for outsiders to tell exactly what financial circumstances led to the decision to make the layoffs, although we doubt that the Los Gatos purchase and start-up costs were the driving factor. More than likely it was the recession, which has caused a general downturn in hospitals nationwide, as well as at El Camino. Certainly the Los Gatos purchase might not look as rosy today as it did a year ago, when the hospital was flush with some $300 million in profits sitting in the bank.

At the time Graham and his board said the hospital needed to grow and the only choice was to look south, given the strong presence of Stanford Hospital and Clinics next door in Palo Alto. With the cash in hand, the purchase looked like a good bet, although the cost was high and the hospital did not get high marks for disclosing its decision with the public until after the decision had been made.

Now two key unions — the Service Employees International and the nurses union, have said they will challenge the layoffs. Many employees are particularly upset by he way the hospital got the word out early to everyone who could possibly lose their job, which unfortunately left most layoff candidates on edge, not knowing if they would one of about 55 employees who will survive the cuts. That is a horrible burden to bear, and we hope hospital officials will consider taking another course if it becomes necessary to lay off anyone in the future.

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