Hospitals cancel elective surgeries ahead of strike

Published: Saturday, May. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 11:39 am

Sacramento's UC Davis Medical Center and four other large University of California hospitals have begun canceling elective surgeries because of a two-day strike planned by some workers next week.

UCDMC has postponed 48 elective surgeries – including some for major cancers – and rescheduled 519 radiological examinations, a spokesman said.

On an average day, 65 elective surgeries take place at the hospital, said spokesman David Ong, along with another 21 non-elective surgeries.

Among the surgeries delayed by the planned strike are kidney transplants, heart surgery and neck and back surgery, he said.

Hospitals in San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles and San Francisco also are delaying some surgeries.

Emergency care will continue and patients already in hospitals will receive treatment, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. But elective procedures will be delayed until after the strike, set for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The union representing 13,000 nursing assistants, scanning techs, operating room scrubs and other health care workers said it will keep weekend-level staffing in critical areas, such as neonatal and burn units, during a walkout. Some strikers will go back to work if medical emergencies arise and return to the picket lines once the patients are treated.

"The most important thing here is that patient safety be preserved," said Todd Stenhouse, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

UC officials, who are seeking an injunction to prevent the strike, said they would hire temporary replacement workers if one does occur. That could cost at least $15 million in lost revenue and extra pay over two days.

The five UC hospitals serve about 2,400 inpatients on an average day, as well as outpatients for such treatments as chemotherapy. The number of patients in the hospitals could drop by 25 percent during a strike, said John Stobo, UC's senior vice president for health sciences and services.

UCDMC's average daily patient population is 471. Hospital officials expect a 15 to 20 percent reduction in that number as a result of the strike but are not drawing down the patient population in advance, said Ong.

In addition to the surgery postponements, he said: "We anticipate closing three of our four blood-drawing locations on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Capacity for outpatient phlebotomy services will be reduced by 40 percent of normal."

The medical center has also rescheduled 17 gastrointestinal procedures.

The two sides are fighting over pensions and staffing levels. UC officials say the union has refused to accept a new pension plan, similar to those of other state workers, which requires more employee contributions and reduces long-term benefits for new hires. The union contends staffing has been reduced to dangerous levels.

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her in Twitter @AnitaCreamer.

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