For the past 16 months members of the Olympic Medical Center Board of Commissioners have been taking it on the chin, with regular criticisms issued by the 350-plus hospital workers who are represented by Service Employees International Union 1199 NW (SEIU) and by union supporters in the community.
The protests kicked up a notch in early February after the board declared an impasse in negotiations and voted to approve a new three-year contract with the union.
Last week the commissioners enjoyed a bit of turnabout as during their Wednesday, March 21, meeting nearly a dozen speakers took the opportunity to express their support for the board and to encourage them to “stay the course.”
Supporters included other union workers within the hospital, hospital physicians and several from within the business community.
Sarah Garrett, an applications analyst in patient access services at OMC and a member of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), told the board that “Not all nurses belong to that union. Many don’t.”
She noted that UFCW workers recently approved their contract with OMC. “After 15 months of negotiations (with SEIU), the rest of us were starting to feel like, ‘Why did we settle?’ I support the decision to force them to take the contract. If you want to get what they offer in the city, go there,” Garrett said.
Dr. Mark Fischer, who practices at the Olympic Medical Physicians Specialty Clinic, read a statement provided by multiple members of the Medical Executive Committee, saying the members first wanted to reassure the community that the quality of care, patient safety, mission and vision of OMC “remains excellent.”
He noted that “For quite some time and more recently, questions of safety staffing and insinuations about OMC quality of care and patient safety have occurred.”
“Please look beyond any inference of inaccurate safety claims as we look forward to continued medical excellence and tireless, ongoing improvement in care for patients and our community,” Fischer concluded.
Melinda Smithson, OMC’s controller/deputy treasurer, said she was speaking as both a private citizen as well as an employee.
“I think that all of us employed here would say that we would prefer to not have our pension cut or to not have to pay more for health insurance coverage for family members. But I also believe that it is a necessary step that OMC must take in order to remain viable.”
Smithson also took issue with some of the protestors’ comments: “I have been offended by the accusations against the board and against (OMC CEO) Eric Lewis. One of the accusations has been that OMC has spent money on unnecessary things.”
“I am very, very thankful to the board, to Eric Lewis and to the administration for having the knowledge and big picture insight to realize that tough decisions have to be made.”
Kaj Ahlburg, an attorney and businessman, said, “OMC has basically granted the SEIU the same benefits that management and the other 700 hospital workers have. Giving SEIU workers more would be unfair to OMC’s other employees.”
“It would also be unfair to the taxpayers who support OMC,” he added.
“Most taxpayers in the hospital district make much less than nurses at OMC belonging to SEIU,” Ahlburg said. “To ask these taxpayers, most of whom do not have three-year contracts or guaranteed annual pay increases, to fund even more lavish benefits for SEIU members would be wrong.”
While the majority of the comments were complimentary of the board, two speakers took the board’s actions to task. Bill Kildall, organizer of the recently formed Clallam County Quality Care Coalition, asked the board to improve access to hospital governance information.
Tim Kelly, a union worker from Forks, provided a spirited defense of the union, saying he is proud to support its efforts.