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The cost of Temple Hospital replacements

Philadelphia Enquirer, 4/9/10

By Jane M. Von Bergen
Philadelphia Inquirer
April 9, 2010

On its Web site, Health Source Global Staffing, a California company, put out a bid for help at Temple University Hospital, where 1,500 nurses and allied health professionals have been on strike since March 31.

"We are recruiting for an upcoming strike in Philadelphia at a large teaching hospital," the Web site said. "We need over 830 nurses, techs and other staff to take care of patients. We are asking for your help."

A flashing banner on the home page promises up to $10,000 a week for nurses.

At the rate Temple is spending, it could fund four years of raises, at 3 percent per year, by the middle of next week, if the strike persists, said Bill Cruice, executive director of the union, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Staffing. The tab for those raises would be $9 million, he claimed.

Hospital administrators calculate the costs differently.

"I have a workforce at the bedside, and it is the cost of doing business," said chief executive officer Sandy Gomberg, declining to specify what the replacement staff is costing. "It's what an organization does. I'm running the hospital with the right people to take care of the patients."

Cruice estimated that Temple had already spent nearly $5 million on the eight-day strike and the few days of orientation that preceded it.

He calculated that the hospital would hire 850 replacement workers at $5,500 per week - a conservative estimate, he contends, given the salary range available from the staffing company.

That number came to $4.7 million, from which he deducted regular payroll costs of $2.6 million, because striking workers are not getting paid. Net cost is $2.1 million.

He calculated the room rate at the Sheraton Center City, where the workers are staying, at $175 a night. They double up, so he calculated 400 rooms at that price. For 10 nights, it comes to $700,000.

The replacement workers have been getting $50 a day - $35 per diem and a $15 meal ticket at the hospital cafeteria. Daily box lunches supplied by the hotel cost $10, he estimates. Total: $510,000.

Travel expenses are paid. Cruice estimated that 700 flew in, assuming that some would drive. Health Source Global offers to pay up to $400 each way. Cruice figured $500 per round-trip ticket, for $350,000.

He tacked on $1.1 million, a 25 percent overhead charge paid to staffing agencies.

A few miscellaneous charges bring the tab to nearly $5 million for the first week. Cruice thinks costs will fall to $4 million in the second week.

"It's outrageous they are squandering our tax money this way," he said, pointing to Temple's status as a publicly funded hospital.

Gomberg disagreed:

"I have no expense for the 1,500 who are out. I'm not paying their salaries, I'm not paying their health benefits, and I'm not contributing to their pensions. The folks I have are replacing them. It's not double the spending.

"In general, there is a bit of premium in the world of strike staffing," Gomberg acknowledged, "because of the [time] commitment of the nurses or technical staff that comes. It's a onetime expense. It is not related to the cost of the contract, which will be a multiyear contract when we are done."

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