Unions Fighting Planned Closure of Gastrointestinal and Ambulatory Surgery Services in Wailuku
The planned closure of Kaiser Permanente’s Gastrointestinal and Ambulatory Surgery services at its Wailuku Clinic on Maui has union members and employees concerned about the impact of changes and timing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
17 Nurses, 11 Staff and Technicians Affected:
The closure would affect 17 Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses as well as 11 staff and technicians.
Unions representing the workers say this plan will remove several operating rooms from Maui’s health care and also expressed concerns over continuity of care, waiting time for procedures and potential job losses.
Savannah Evangelista, a Registered Nurse and member of the Hawai‘i Nurses & Healthcare Professionals union has worked at the Wailuku Clinic since 2011. She said she’s concerned about patient access to care if services move to the hospital, and about her job since she is the sole breadwinner in her family.
“My husband lost his job to the COVID pandemic and I am also the primary person who insures the family. I’ve been a Maui resident for 29 years and a Kaiser patient for 28 of those years, and I really am concerned about loosing my job during this time and during the COVID pandemic,” said Evangelista during a UNITE HERE Local 5 Town Hall held on Wednesday.
Kaiser Permanente provided a statement saying:
“As a result of this change, we anticipate there will unfortunately be some staff positions eliminated from the Wailuku Medical Office. This decision was not taken lightly but is in the best interests of our members on Maui and the long-term future of our organization. These individuals have made important contributions to Kaiser Permanente, and we are committed to assisting them during this transition and meeting all of our contractual obligations.
“We are working with our labor partners to discuss details and explore options to ensure that all employees are treated respectfully and fairly. Options for the affected staff could include opportunities within Kaiser Permanente or affiliates, as well as a continuation of current wages and benefits for an extended period of time.”
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino provided comment during a press conference on Wednesday saying:
“I’ve been assured by Kaiser that many of them could be absorbed into the hospital because the need is still there. Other medical groups have also said that they could probably pick up a number of these people. I don’t think it will eliminate their jobs as far as what they’ve been trained to do. I think the sad part about it is the years of service that you lose because you change jobs; however, I will do what I can.”
Kaiser Permanente Identifies Reasoning and Transition Plans
Kaiser Permanente said they are targeting the closure of the services in the near future after a “thorough review,” and that all other services at the facility will remain open and operational.
“We are working with our labor partners to determine how best to address the issues driving this change. Given our financial challenges and the need to develop new ways to deliver care, improve efficiency and service, and reduce costs, this decision makes strategic sense. It also aligns with our organizational mandate to find creative alternatives to how we do business in the COVID-19 era and beyond,” according to a statement provided by Kaiser Permanente to Maui Now.
Daniel Kerwin an internal organizing director with UNITE HERE Local 5 also spoke at the town hall on Wednesday saying: “Kaiser claims their facilities, specifically their Gastroenterology and Ambulatory service center departments at Wailuku Clinic have structural deficiencies and that they can no longer support these services without major reconstruction costs.” He said the union was unaware of the claims of deficiencies for months.
According to Kaiser Permanente, while financial reasoning has been identified as a driver, they also considered needed updates at the facility saying if construction were done, it would be “large and impactful” to members and would leave patients without those services during upgrades.
Unions Plan Car Caravan Demonstration;
Seek Further Discussion Before Final Decision is Reached
The unions are calling for Kaiser to conduct a full, public discussion to explore the many consequences of the move before a final decision is reached.
Members of UNITE HERE Local 5 and Hawai‘i Nurses & Healthcare Professionals on both Maui and O‘ahu have planned a day of action to fight against the plan.
The groups will hold a Car Caravan in front of the Kaiser Maui Lani office to Maui Memorial Medical Center on Monday evening; and a similar caravan to the Kaiser Honolulu Clinic on Oʻahu at the same time.
Local 5 represents approximately 12,000 workers throughout Hawaiʻi who work in the hospitality, health care and food service industries and is an affiliate of UNITE HERE, an international union that represents more than 300,000 workers throughout the US and Canada.