Monday, May 30, 2005

A Friend Remembered- Memorial Day

Working at the county hospital you don’t expect to meet veterans. Born and raised in Berkeley, I’m against war and afraid of guns. My father served briefly between wars but mostly uniforms, tanks, guns and soldiers frighten me. This county put my father in a camp during the World War II and I still haven’t forgiven us.

I never knew soldiers and I certainly didn’t expect to meet so many. I met John teaching swimming to disabled students in Berkeley. John, a former Marine had a huge brain tumor, the bad kind. He worked in construction when he started to have headaches and mood swings. His first doc thought, young healthy former Marine must be post-traumatic stress, PTSD. He got some mood meds. His balance got really bad and he looked drunk when he walked, he lost his job. He started living in his car and trying to get more pain meds, the headaches got unbearable. The police arrested John; they thought he was drunk but when he didn’t dry up the sent him to psychiatric hospital. The psych hospital sent him to the county hospital.

I never met a Marine before. John knew he wasn’t going to live and probably wouldn’t walk again. That’s why he wanted to smoke, laugh and be outside. He didn’t have any family and not many regrets; he was one of the strongest and kindest people I’ve ever met.

People don’t think of Highland Hospital as serving veterans but it does. I have worked with veterans from, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I and I’m sure we’ll be seeing veterans from Iraq soon. They are some of the medical center’s most gracious and likable clients.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

County Supes Union Busting for Fun and Profit

The county supes are starting to sound just like Arnold, they’re blaming all healthcare problems and shortages on the “special interests:” nurses, housekeepers, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, radiology technicians and their unions. They all parrot the sheriff’s mantra “ the problem with the medical center is that the unions have too much power.” What does that mean? If the unions and the employees had any clout or power they would fix the medical center’s billing department. Many supervisors refuse to meet with union representatives and hospital employees, the Grand Jury and consultants’ slander them, they have little or no access to the hospital authority board and the sheriffs outnumber and intimidate them at all public meetings.

So, why do county supervisors keep blaming everything from world hunger to the rising cost of pharmaceuticals on the healthcare unions? Well, it’s a bad budget year and they’re looking for easy money. You break a few unions, contract out a few services, and dump people off those county pensions, you cash in. Then the supes reap the added benefit of giving fat contracts to big campaign donors. Union busting for fun and profit, it’s not very original.

So the hospital authority is leading the charge, impervious to reason, due process and bad press. They forged ahead and contracted out the entire psychiatry staff. They were so eager to attack a union that they didn’t bother with the necessary negotiating steps or even the price tag. The authority board’s contract actually increases the cost of services, but the private contractor has lots of political suction, she makes regular thousand-dollar donations to county supervisors and initiative campaigns. The private contractor gets a huge return on investment, the supervisors get to bust a union and the medical center gets a bigger bill for the same services, and a costly lawsuit. It’s just the kind of lose lose deal the hospital authority board has become famous for.

Jim Price Talking Sense

Comments from the Hospital Authority Board Meeting Monday, May 23rd

Ladies and gentlemen my name is Jim Price and I represent members of
EastBayLiving. We're a local advocacy group whose members all have one thing in common. We want to see the communities in our county thrive. My father worked at the medical center for over 30 years, which really meant that this hospital was part of my family for over 30 years. I grew up concerned about our patients, their care and our hospital.

I'm here tonight to suggest that with the addition of our new board members, that this is as good a time as any to begin to create a new environment of trust and open honest communication between the board, the administration, the employees and unions leaders. I've been talking and mostly listening to all of you for a while now and the one thing that concerns me the most is the lack of trust that exists. The internal bickering, lack of focus and a unified vision results in bad press and misrepresentation of the exceptional work that is done here every day.

Lack of trust and communication prevents caregivers, administrators, trustees and unions from focusing on the real work of building operational infrastructure. This Board should ask the consultants, the managers, the doctors, all the employees and their unions representatives to work with them to make this hospital better.

If the trustees lead the hospital on a comprehensive campaign to fix the billing department and took the time to educate and involve everyone, they could improve revenue and morale. Hospital workers and their unions want to help, doctors want to help, community members want to help. The trustees as leaders must provide the leadership and vision we all need to work together.

Knowing the medical center is under such tremendous financial pressure. We must all focus on improving revenue, which will create job security, good press and good relationships with the Board of Supervisors and other county agencies. We want to work on positive change, like making county debt repayment based on a percentage of net revenue. This will create an incentive for success. The county will profit from our success, instead of from service cuts.

This Board must work to create a culture of trust and cooperation. It must develop policies, which encourage cooperation and mutual respect between the County Hospital and other county agencies. In this way the medical center can lead the county, toward more cost effective and caring service for all residents who need county care.

Doctors, nurses, caregivers, staff, their union leaders, administrators, patients, community members and the voters of Alameda County all want the medical center to thrive. We want to help you to make this hospital better, please give us the opportunity.

Banana Board

The Dirt’s report on the “new and improved” Alameda County
Medical Center Board of Trustees.

The small narrow room filled quickly, the air thick with tension; staff set up fans and the door and the windows were opened, but it kept getting hotter and hotter. The air just stopped moving. Hoards of sober dark suits milled around trying to stay cool. Most of the guests had more enemies than friends in the room and armed sheriff’s stood guard and flanked El Generalissimo. As usual the meeting was delayed. No one wanted to come to this meeting. Union busting, lawsuits, lay-offs, all bad news that would result in more bad feelings and bad press.

Afghanistan? Columbia? Guatemala during the seventies? Nope, the left coast, the liberal heartland, the democratic machine, the Alameda County public hospital. The County Supervisor’s own little banana republic complete with El Generalissimo Plummer and puppet appointees who take orders from the county supervisors who feign ignorance and indifference.

El Generalissimo and his command captains take copious notes on luxurious sheriff’s letterhead and send copies to all the politicians, grand juries and commanders so they know what to think. The supes insist Generalissimo Plummer is really “a great guy” and “he’s just trying to be helpful.” El Generalissimo Plummer wants attendees to kiss his ring.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Wake Up and Smell The Snark (Part I)

Yes, I’m slipping into bloglish. So you say what’s snark? Well, it’s that smell emanating from the President’s kill Social Security campaign, or Swartzenegger’s border bashing plan or the Grand Jury’s interim report on the medical center. In fact the smell of that report was so bad the Dirt convened a task force. If the odor doesn’t let up we’ll have to create committees and focus groups. There are so many factual errors, offensive statements, and poorly reasoned conclusions; we’ve had to divide up the work. We’ll be doing a series on the Grand Jury’s interim snark report.

So, who wrote the snark report? The Grand Jury is overseen by political wannabe, Jeff Stark, congressman “Pete” Stark’s son. I thought these guys we’re democrats, but what do I know. Jeff’s helper was the Foreman of the Grand Jury, Keith Boyer. Mr. Boyer was a Captain in the Sheriff’s department for 27 years and he’s a perennial appointee to county commissions. He’s friends with Gail Steele, “Chainsaw” Charlie Plummer and “Pete.” It really helps to have friends on the Grand Jury. The 2003-2004 Grand Jury Report on the Sheriff’s Department reads like a budget request.

“ The Grand Jury urges future grand juries to closely monitor the sheriff’s on-going planning process, paying close attention to the ability to provide a funding source for this sorely needed project [replacement of Eden Township Substation]. “

The conclusion was: “All three facilities, Eden Township Substation, the coroner’s bureau, and the communications center-are all in need of replacement as soon as possible.“

The Grand Jury walked through Highland and didn’t even offer to get us more toilet paper. No, they focused on attacking the unions, the trustees and glorifying consultants. Measure “A” monies must have looked like that “funding source” the Sheriff sorely needed.

Stay tuned for Part II: The Jolly Jury and the Sweet Smell of Snark

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Community Support Growing- Thanks Jim!

The medical center has always enjoyed a huge amount of community support and trust. Jim Price a member of East Bay Living and a community leader has taken a welcome and personal interest in the medical center.

Many people have misconceptions and prejudices about public hospitals; Jim Price is part of the medical center’s family, his father worked at Highland for more than 30 years; he grew up worrying about our patients, their care and our hospital.

Check out East Bay Living’s report on the medical center:

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hasta La Vista Chainsaw

The good people of Alameda County sent Chainsaw Charlie Plummer packing. They told the Board of Supervisors in no uncertain terms that they do not want the Sheriff in charge of the hospitals. After hundreds of instructive phone calls, letters, and faxes the Board of Supervisors realized his appointment to the Hospital Authority Board was unwise, unethical and probably illegal. In fact all of the Supervisors deny nominating him for the Board, they don’t know how it happened.

Ever concerned about the proper functioning of the County government, they went right to work concocting a plan that would allow Sheriff Plummer to “save face.” They replaced him with another nominee and attempted move the meeting along as quickly as possible. Old Chainsaw Charlie, never one to pass up an audience, even gave a concession speech.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Stop Chainsaw Charlie

It’s time for everyone to have a heart-to-heart discussion with the Alameda County Supervisors. Putting the Sheriff on the Hospital Authority Board to cut services, to close hospitals and to break unions is a mean and ugly idea. He has a huge conflict of interest and hundreds of community members, patients, physicians, nurses and caregivers have already called, faxed and written to express their shock and outrage at the proposal.

The Medical Center and local elected officials should be building bridges; not blowing them up. The hospital has nearly balanced the budget, there is no financial crisis; there is a crisis of leadership. We need hospital trustees who want to work with the community, the unions, the physicians, and the patients to make the hospital better.

Please call right now:
President of the Board Supervisor
Keith Carson (510) 272-6695
Tell him:
I oppose the appointment of Sheriff Plummer to the Hospital Authority Board because of his conflict of interest.”

Please Come to the
Board of Supervisors Meeting:

Tuesday May 17th 10:00 am
1221 Oak Street, 5th Floor
Oakland, CA

Chainsaw Charlie Plummer

The Tribune’s been covering Sheriff Charlie Plummer’s coup of the Medical Center with uncritical awe and adoration. Awhile ago it looked like they were interested in doing some real reporting, now it looks like they’re back to doing PR work for the prison industrial complex. I think they’re letting the Sheriff write the articles himself to save on labor costs.

According to the Tribune the unions “said” there is a conflict of interest in putting the Sheriff on the Alameda County Hospital Authority Board. I guess nobody had time to read the bylaws of the Hospital Authority Board, which specifically prohibit contractors from sitting on the Hospital Authority Board. You see the Medical Center contracts with the Sheriff for security and the Sheriff contracts with the Medical Center for healthcare for prisoners. The Sheriff and the Medical Center also compete for county funding from the County General Fund. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Alameda County with more conflict of interest than the Sheriff.

The Medical Center has nearly balanced the budget; if the Sheriff stopped billing so much overtime for security and started paying the bills for health services provided to prisoners, the Medical Center might be at break even. That’s not really the point though is it, Supervisor Carson wants lay-offs, the Sheriff wants money and all the Supes want land. They brought in Chainsaw Charlie to close Fairmont Hospital and disperse the patients and caregivers in an orderly fashion. Throwing out all those patients will save millions, that money will go back to the County and the Sheriff will get it, the land will go to the Supes.

Fairmont’s a choice piece of real estate, why the Supes will make a mint with lots of developer friends chopping up that land. It’s a politician’s wet dream, make rich friends and do them big favors. What do you think they’ll put at Fairmont, Keith Carson’s Casino and Western Grill?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How Low Can the County Go?

Well, it’s a race for the bottom. County government hits a new low. The Grand Jury wrote a scathing, completely biased and often inaccurate report on the Medical Center. The authors clearly hate unions, love consultants and didn’t bother to talk to the workers they were so willing to slander. At first I thought it read like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would write, pissed off at nurses and not thinking clearly.

Then it hit me, many of the statements sounded like quotes of things Sheriff Plummer has said at Authority Board meetings. According to some sources Sheriff Plummer and the Civil Grand Jury are pen pals; he writes them little notes. The Sheriff sure must be mad that the Grand Jury report uses lots of his exotic ideas and even some of his language and doesn’t give him credit anywhere, they didn’t even say they spoke to him.

Then the same day the Grand Jury Report comes out slamming the Medical Center, we learn that the Board of Supes plans to appoint Sheriff Plummer to the Hospital Authority Board; corruption or coincidence, you be the judge.

Vote Health Alert

Supporters of access to quality health care for the most vulnerable of Alameda County's residents need to protest the plan of the County Board of Supervisors to appoint Sheriff Charles Plummer to the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) Board of Trustees. Why is this a problem?

ACMC trustees have a legal fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the Medical Center. Plummer cannot fulfill this responsibility because as elected sheriff he has advocated against the Medical Center getting adequate funding from the County's General Fund, which is also the source of Sheriff's Dept. funding. In other words, he would have a conflict of interest if he served on the ACMC Board, which he insists competes for public funding that he wants for his own department. His public solution to budget problems at ACMC is to cut services to the poor.

There is no financial crisis at the Medical Center. There is a crisis of leadership. ACMC needs an experienced CEO with the vision to move the Medical Center forward. Plummer's appointment is the "nuclear option" which sabotages the current effort to hire a new CEO - his many attacks on the Medical Center have included criticism of their efforts to build a working relationship with labor and community groups like Vote Health.

Please call your Supervisor to vote against the appointment of Sheriff Plummer to the ACMC Board of Trustees:

Trustees have a legal fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the Medical Center, and Plummer cannot fulfill this charge due to his conflict of interest as Sheriff.
ACMC faces a leadership crisis, not a financial crisis. Plummer's appointment will sabotage current efforts to hire a new CEO.
Here are phone numbers, faxes and email address for the four supervisors who support the appointment of Plummer to the Board of Trustees:

President Keith Carson

Vice President Scott Haggerty

Supervisor Gail Steele

Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker

Please note that the appointment has been buried in the consent calendar (item #39) for Tuesday at 10am,
May 17th's meeting of the Board of Supervisors
at 1221 Oak St., Oakland
Fifth floor.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Circle Time

Some time ago my friend Allan‘s truck got stolen. Allan worked as an electrician but he was really a musician. He wanted to play music all the time and resented everything that kept him from it, like work. He needed the old pick-up truck for work and play, to carry his bass and his tools. The police called when they found the truck, the thieves left some women’s lingerie, an empty Whisky Bottle and two packages of condoms in the cab. Allan said the most troubling part about the crime was that the thieves had had more fun in his truck in two weeks than he had in two years. Allan had a sense of cosmic harmony, karma and all that.

Allan and I grew up in Berkeley so we had lots of exposure to all manner of enlightenment and spirituality. I guess I’m less fertile soil, than my friend. When I started looking for schools for my little McNuggets (Blot and Og are 3 and 4 years old). I discovered hippie practices have been integrated into the Montessori curriculum, circle time. The whole school does sort of a feel good group hug and sing along. Cum ba ya, it its like the seventies without the pot.

Highland needs a big circle time. Trust has decayed, and blame and paranoia have taken root. Consultants have perfected the fine art of hiding; the only indication we now have that they exist is the unwanted appearance of time clocks replacing pay phones on nursing floors. They bear an unfortunate likeness to ATMs and patients have already been sighted trying to pry cash out of them.

I hate to get “Berkeley” on you, but it’s a crisis of confidence. It’s an opportunity to lead, somebody please take the county healthcare challenge and put forth a plan and a vision, not just another bogus budget.

Vote Health

Vote Health is a cool organization, they do real grassroots healthcare advocacy, policy watch and single payer work. They are the medical center’s fairy godparents. Check them out at:

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Con is On

Here we go Sheriff Plummer is getting ready for the big shake down. He’s balking at taking budget cuts. Orloff our incompetent DA is balking with him and they’re balking right to the press. Yeah, the Sheriff is hurting so bad they have four officers guarding one patient with twenty-five tubes and enough meds on board to take out a bull elephant. If current trends continue we’ll have more sheriff’s than nurses on the hospital floors.

Besides, the supes fell all over themselves at the budget meetings to give the Sheriff more money, and have already promised any “additional funds” which magically appear in the budget would go the Sheriff.

So if the Sheriff and DA can balk for bucks, how come no one’s out balking for healthcare, where’s the Authority Board, where’s Dave Kears, where’s the leadership?