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Monopoly medicine may be bad for your health

By: Deborah Burger, RN and CNA/NNU Co-president, 9/4/13

Billboard campaign features Deborah Burger, RN, CNA/NNU Co-president

Who is really behind the doors at your local “community” hospital?

In recent weeks you may have seen a billboard near Barstow Community Hospital with a message from registered nurses, “Protect Our Patients, Don’t Silence Nurses,” and a photo of a real RN (that’s me).

The sign explains that Barstow hospital is not run by your neighbors down the street. It’s a cog in an $11 billion Wall Street corporation, Community Health Systems (CHS), the nation’s second biggest for-profit hospital chain, which specializes in buying hospitals like Barstow in small communities where patients have few other options for care.

CHS boasts that in over 55 percent of its markets, CHS-affiliated hospitals are the “sole provider of healthcare services.” By cornering the market, they can shoehorn patients into whatever version of care CHS is willing to provide, at whatever the executives in CHS corporate suites in Tennessee want to charge.

After purchase, CHS typically cuts nurse staffing and other services to the bone. Nurses see more patient falls, a high rate of bed sores, and increased infection risk. Patients too often do not get the tests and other care they need.

Hiding behind the small-town face of a local hospital is not CHS’ only secret.

CHS is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for overbilling Medicare by hundreds of millions of dollars, hardly the profile we expect from a community-oriented healthcare provider.

Nurses are frequently the only ones standing between our patients and hospital management’s practices and policies.

Last year, Barstow nurses voted to join CNA for a collective voice to stand up to this $11 billion corporation to protect and improve the quality of care.

CHS, however, ignored the democratic election and refused to meet with nurses to address patient safety concerns. Management even cited nurses’ efforts to report to management unsafe conditions that jeopardize patients as a pretext for stalling.

Barstow’s behavior was so extreme the hospital was sanctioned by the federal agency that oversees labor relations, which charged it with violating federal law, and then by a U.S. District Court judge who issued an injunction last month ordering the hospital to bargain with the nurses.

Rest assured, nurses refuse to be silenced. So when you see that billboard, think of us. Barstow nurses work for CHS, but belong to this community and are first, last, and always, dedicated to your care.

Deborah Burger, RN, CNA/NNU Co-president

Deborah Burger
Co-president
California Nurses Association

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