Uncertainty ahead for El Camino Hospital
This year at El Camino Hospital, a long-running feud between district administrators and the hospital's major union was mostly resolved, while the November elections brought two significant changes — including new, reform-minded district board members and the passage of a controversial initiative, which, if implemented, could cap the amount the hospital would legally be allowed to pay its employees.
Back in 2010, all employees were asked to give up certain benefits, and the hospital board imposed a contract on the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers, which the union opposed. There were many items of contention, but chief among them was the elimination of a health care plan that was free for union members.
That option was restored in September when the union signed a three-year contract with the hospital.
Though the union's top officials dispute this claim and hospital administrators remain mum on the topic, it would appear that the threatened passage of Measure M — a salary cap that limits executive pay to twice that of the governor of California's salary — played a major role in forcing the reinstatement of the free health care benefit.
Kary Lynch, an SEIU-UHW steward and psychiatric technician for the hospital, told another newspaper that the measure was merely a "bargaining chip" and that the union backed off pushing the initiative after it was restored in the new contract.
Whether that is true — and union officials insist it is not — Measure M passed anyway, and now the hospital is looking into ways to block the initiative. Hospital spokeswoman Chris Ernst said that if the hospital were forced to abide by Measure M, it would be impossible to attract top talent and the hospital would suffer as a result. Currently, the hospital's legal team is trying to determine whether the measure is even legal.
In addition to passing Measure M, on Nov. 6 voters re-elected incumbent hospital director John Zoglin and newcomers Julia Miller and Dennis Chiu, and turned down incumbent Wes Alles, as well as Bill James, who failed to win a seat in the 2002 election. One seat was open in the election — that of Uwe Kladde, who left the hospital's corporation and district boards earlier in the year for personal reasons.
While the two newcomers, Chiu and Miller, do not represent a majority of the board, they will be able to propose and second motions to be heard in public meetings. This fact is not insignificant, as both have pledged to bring reform to El Camino. Both have said they want to see ECH take more steps to improve transparency — both in the way decisions are made and how money is spent. Chiu also believes the hospital is interpreting a law — the Gann Appropriations Limit — incorrectly, and that the organization might be able to pour more of its profits into community benefit projects.