News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

March 30, 2020

The Alameda Health System CEO puts lives at risk. But the real problem is austerity.

By John Pearson

John Pearson is a nurse in the emergency room at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Pearson has been drawing public attention to the severe understaffing and equipment shortages that plague Highland and other hospitals and clinics in the Alameda Health System (AHS). He and his co-workers are fighting to get the resources they need to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The following is adapted from Peason’s Twitter thread about an upcoming public employee performance review of the AHS Chief Executive Officer.

On the evening of Monday, March 30, the Board of Trustees that oversees the AHS will have a closed meeting. There is one item on the agenda: a performance review of our CEO, Delvecchio Finley.

Finley makes over $700,000 a year while frontline healthcare workers fight tooth and nail just to get appropriate protective gear during a global pandemic.

Why our public hospital system pays our CEO $700,000 in taxpayer money, and why we even have a CEO to begin with is a story for another day. Why AHS is overseen by an unelected Board of Trustees instead of the county itself is another story for another day.

Finley has been the CEO of our public hospital system for five years now. I’ve worked as an ER nurse at AHS and have been active in our union that entire time. Delvecchio Finley doesn’t listen to the healthcare workers that make our hospitals and clinics run.

He doesn’t listen when we tell him that wait times of 12 hours or more in the ER are putting patients’ lives at risk. He doesn’t listen when we tell him that there are flies in the operating room and not enough housekeepers to clean rooms between patients. Finley doesn’t listen when we tell him we’re not prepared for the surge of Covid-19 patients.

Instead, he cuts corners to save costs, which has cut the lives of hundreds of my patients short. I wish Finley would listen to us and advocate for our patients like we do, instead of making excuses for why there’s never enough to go around.

But the truth is that Finley’s mismanagement and negligence isn’t our biggest obstacle to delivering quality care to our patients. Our biggest problem is austerity. Public hospitals have been starved of the funding and resources healthcare workers need to do our jobs well.

Austerity means that we don’t have shoes or warm clothing to give homeless and trauma patients when they are discharged into the cold night. It means patients stay in rooms with someone else’s dried blood on the curtains and beds. Austerity means that if we need five ER technicians to do EKGs and keep suicidal patients from harming themselves, we only get three, or even just one. It means we work twelve-hour shifts with no breaks. This stuff was happening all the time, long before Covid-19.

This is what happens when you have a healthcare system that puts the bottom line over patients’ and workers’ needs. 

Being an ER nurse in an underfunded hospital is like plugging holes in a sinking ship. There are too many holes and the ship keeps sinking. Who the captain of the ship is has little effect on whether or not the ship sinks — just how fast it sinks.

This is all to say that no matter what happens on Monday at the Board of Trustees meeting, we’ll need a bigger fix than just a different CEO. We need massive, transformational changes in our healthcare system. If that wasn’t already abundantly clear, Covid-19 has made it so.

We need a healthcare system that’s built to serve patients, not executives. 

We nurses are trained to be patient advocates. That means when a patient is confused, or getting rushed into a procedure they don’t want, or not getting the care they should, it’s our job to speak out, even if it’s uncomfortable. I take that role seriously and I fight for my patients every day. It’s in my role as a patient advocate that I tell you that our for-profit healthcare system is failing our patients. 

We need change and we need it yesterday.