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Protesters decry cuts at Kaiser hospital

, 11/18/13

Longtime Kaiser health plan members Karen and Mike Kuns, who moved from the Bay Area to Manteca because it has a Kaiser hospital, joined a protest march Friday to bring attention to what they say are too many service cuts at the small hospital.

MANTECA - Kaiser Permanente members, patients and nurses marched along a portion of the main east/west boulevard of the county's fastest growing city Friday to bring attention to cutbacks in services at Kaiser's Manteca hospital they say are causing safety issues and delaying patient care by transferring them to Kaiser's Modesto hospital.

About three dozen protesters, many of them older Manteca residents who live in the city's Woodbridge by Del Webb adult community, joined the midday march down West Yosemite Avenue. The protesters have been letting Kaiser administrators know for several weeks about their concerns over the changes at the small hospital that they say began in January.

Oakland-based Kaiser's top manager for the region, Senior Vice President Corwin Harper, issued a two-page statement this month stating the ongoing protests are nothing more than a "labor dispute" between the health care giant and the California Nurses Association, the union that represents its registered nurses.

Registered nurse Ruth Somera, a Manteca resident who started working at the hospital 18 years ago when it was known as St. Dominic's - Kaiser took over in 2004 - said that initially under Kaiser, services at the hospital grew.

"I'm one of the nurses who chose to stay to serve this community. Since January, they have made some cuts that affect the community, but the community wasn't aware. They closed down the third floor. That's 19 patient rooms. They moved them to the first floor. There are just 13 beds on the first floor. They forced a low census, not considering the population growth here in Manteca," Somera said.

Manteca resident Amy Glass, an intensive care registered nurse at Kaiser's much larger Modesto Medical Center, said 1,900 patients have been transferred from Manteca to Modesto since the service reductions began.

"A woman with a broken hip had to go first to the Manteca hospital by ambulance and then to Modesto even though the ambulance folks know what the ER will keep and not keep. It's very stressful. But the nurses want everyone to know to stop in Manteca first because we can stabilize you," Glass said.

Planning their retirement years, longtime Kaiser members Mike, 62, and Karen Kuns, 66, moved to Manteca more than three years ago from San Jose. They were disappointed upon learning about the reduced services and joined Friday's protest march.

"We considered moving to Roseville at the time. Having a Kaiser here played a major role in moving here," Karen Kuns said.

"We want everything restored that was here when we moved here," Mike Kuns said.

According to Harper's statement: "The truth is, Kaiser Permanente's advances in clinical quality, prevention and safety are keeping people healthier, often preventing illnesses and disease from occurring in the first place. As a result, we are seeing shorting and less frequent hospital stays and fewer patients in our hospitals. At the same time, we are providing high quality care in other appropriate care delivery settings, such as medical offices, at home, by phone, and even online."

Harper noted that Kaiser's lower hospital census reflects a national trend in which admissions and length of stay are declining.

"Overall in Northern California, there are about 400 fewer patients per day in Kaiser Permanente hospitals than five years ago," Harper stated. He went on to reassure the community that Kaiser has no intention of closing down in Manteca. "It is irresponsible for CNA to create this fear and then fan its flame to further the union's own agenda."

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