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Latest News - August 2011

August 19, 2011
Union’s fliers trigger anger; Shasta Regional Medical Center’s parent ponders legal action
Source: Redding Record Searchlight
By: Ryan Sabalow

Calling it a "smear campaign," the parent company of a Redding hospital is exploring whether to take legal action against a labor union that has been calling and sending out mailers to patients seeking negative stories about their care.

Since at least February, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West has been sending out fliers to Redding residents and calling dozens of them to ask about their care at Shasta Regional Medical Center, said Randall Hempling, the hospital's CEO.

Hempling said the union has hired a marketing firm to make calls and distribute fliers. He said they are almost always directed at seniors, the hospital's primary patient base.

The callers say "they want to improve care" at the hospital, but the conversations quickly turn to loaded questions geared at discrediting the hospital and the employees who recently voted to oust the union from the hospital, Hempling said.

"Personally, I find that disgusting," he said.

Adam Weisberg, a SEIU-UHW spokesman, countered that his union is merely seeking information about questionable care practices at the hospital and its parent company, Prime Healthcare Services.

"When an employer treats its employees as poorly and disrespectfully as Prime Healthcare treats its employees, they very frequently may not be treating the rest of the public any better," Weisberg said. "And we're interested in hearing stories from rest of public how they have been treated."

He provided the Record Searchlight with one of the mailers.

The flier shows an elderly couple looking concerned at a document under the headline "Healthcare Alert: Help us improve care at Shasta Regional Medical Center." The flier says, "Help our investigation into possible billing fraud and other problems that could threaten seniors and other patients at Shasta Regional Medical Center."

The mailer is clearly marked with SEIU-UHW's logo.

Weisberg said he didn't know how many residents had been called or how many mailers had been sent. He insisted that the union hadn't embarked on a marketing campaign.

He encouraged those with complaints to call 323-888-8313. The union also has a website where patients can submit complaints about questionable care.

Redding couple Henry and Judith Schmid, whose phone number was provided to the Record Searchlight by the hospital, said that within days of each receiving care at Shasta Regional, they were twice called by the union.

The most recent call was last month.

"It didn't feel right," Judith Schmid, 68, said. "The way he was twisting his questions around, I thought, 'What's going on here?' "

The calls and fliers are the latest in an increasingly bitter fight between Prime Healthcare Services and the union.

SEIU-UHW has accused the hospital chain of manipulating its rates of senior malnutrition cases to game the Medicare system and boost its bottom line.

The Ontario-based hospital chain counters that its billing practices are 100 percent above board and that the union is trying to smear the company to protect its dwindling membership and employee union dues at Prime hospitals.

Hempling said earlier this month the National Labor Relations Board confirmed the union was legally ousted from the hospital in early 2011.

Hempling said the union twice appealed the board's original ruling.

Prime spokesman Edward Barrera said the hospital chain is considering taking legal action about the calls and fliers.

"Our official position is Prime Healthcare is exploring all legal options to combat this smear campaign by SEIU," Barrera said.

He declined to elaborate.



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