The Alameda Health System operates three major hospitals including Highland Hospital in Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Following a disruptive five-day strike by 3,000 Alameda County health care workers two weeks ago, and after months of acrimonious negotiations between unionized health care workers and administrators over a new labor contract, two Alameda County supervisors are now calling on the board of the Alameda Health System to resign.

Supervisors Wilma Chan and Richard Valle want all nine members of the AHS Board of Trustees to resign before October 30, 2020. In a draft letter they intend to send to the AHS trustees, which was posted online last week, they wrote that any trustee who does not resign will be removed from their position.

At their October 20 meeting, the full Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to adopt Chan and Valle’s plan to have the AHS Board of Trustees resign.

“Unfortunately, over the last two years, the AHS Administration has eroded trust and damaged the system’s relationships with its employees and partners,” Chan and Valle wrote in the letter.

“Supervisor Valle and I are on a committee that’s looking at how governance is working at AHS,” said Chan in an interview with The Oaklandside. “This is part of that process. The reason why we wanted the board to resign is because under the current bylaws, if we want to see any improvements right now, that’s our only remedy. We can ask the board to resign or we can dismiss the board, but we can’t step in and change things around.” 

The Alameda Health System is the county’s public hospital authority. It operates the region’s major trauma center, Highland Hospital in Oakland, as well as San Leandro and Alameda hospitals, John George Psychiatric Hospital, and other health care facilities serving mostly low-income patients. During the pandemic, its three hospitals have cared for hundreds of COVID-19 patients and tested thousands of people for the virus. AHS was created by Alameda County, and the Board of Supervisors has ultimate authority over the health care system.

The five-day strike was carried out by members of SEIU 1021, which represents nurses and other hospital staff at Highland Hospital, and the California Nurses Association, which represents nurses at AHS’s San Leandro and Alameda hospitals. The unions say that AHS administrators have not bargained fairly with them, and that the administration has failed to keep their workplaces safe during the pandemic.

Chan and Valle signaled earlier this month that they intended to take drastic steps in reforming AHS. At an October 8 rally outside the Alameda County administration building in downtown Oakland, Valle told striking hospital workers, “The people that are most important are our patients. The people who take care of them are just as important, and they need the respect that they deserve. Clearly, the Board of Trustees at AHS has not heard. We thank them for their service, it’s time for them to move on.” 

According to Chan and Valle, the strike cost AHS $10 million, putting added financial strain on the safety net health system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both supervisors viewed the strike as avoidable and have blamed AHS leaders for causing it.

Chan said that the strike is not the only reason the Board of Supervisors is intervening. Last year, AHS CEO Delvecchio Finley sent a letter to AHS staff saying that the administration had decided to shut down inpatient beds at John George Psychiatric Hospital and suspend women’s health services at Highland Hospital due to budget concerns. Chan said that letter was written without input from the AHS Board of Trustees or the Board of Supervisors. 

“It really scared people, because that would be a radical decision to make,” said Chan. 

A spokesperson for the Alameda Health System did not return a phone call seeking comment. A spokesperson for SEIU 1021 said that they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the union members at this time.

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