Healthcare Workers: Hospital ER Groundbreaking Ceremony Turns Violent

May 12, 2006
Workers group alleges assault, harrassment at groundbreaking by event security

WEST HILLS, Calif., May 10 /PRNewswire/ -- The following release is being issued by SEIU United Healthcare Workers - West:

This morning, what was intended to be a peaceful visit by West Hills Medical Center caregivers to that facility's ER expansion groundbreaking ceremony turned violent. Several healthcare workers, including Registered Nurses, were physically assaulted and verbally harassed by hired security guards as they were attempting to give information to the media about the serious staffing issues at the facility. One union staff person was thrown to the ground, another was grabbed by the throat, other caregivers were pushed and a union staff members' arm was injured by security guards. Present at the groundbreaking ceremony was West Hills Hospital CEO, Beverly Gilmore, who according to witnesses, observed the attacks and did nothing to stop the violence despite pleas for help by her employees. A videographer who was on hand captured the disturbance which clearly shows the harassment and use of physical force. Union representatives called the police and have filed criminal assault charges. A civil suit is planned and the union will be filing charges against HCA with the National Labor Relations Board.

"All we wanted to do was peacefully pass out information and make people aware of the staffing problems inside the hospital," said Abby Reeves, a Pharmacy Tech at West Hills for 15 years. "As soon as management saw us, they signaled security. Right before my eyes, I saw my co-workers and others shoved, grabbed and thrown to the ground. I'm shocked at the way they reacted. We work here, and they treated us horribly."

West Hills Hospital & Medical Center is owned by HCA, the world's largest for-profit healthcare corporation, which reported profits of $1.4 billion in 2005. Staffing levels at the hospital are set by the corporate parent company in Tennessee, giving unusually little decision-making authority to local caregivers or management. In a desire to constantly increase profits, West Hills Hospital is understaffed and caregivers are often assigned more patients than can safely be handled.

Approximately 700 Registered Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants, Surgical Technologists, Housekeepers, Clerical workers, Operating Room Technicians, Emergency Technicians and other healthcare workers represented by SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and SEIU 121RN, have been in negotiations with West Hills Hospital since April. The workers support the expansion of the hospital, and came to today's groundbreaking event out of concern over management's unwillingness to listen to their warnings of short staffing and the negative impact on patient care.

State Assembly Member Lloyd Levine (D-Sherman Oaks), whose staff aide was the featured speaker at the event, made the following statement: "I am outraged by today's events. These healthcare workers were peacefully trying to tell the truth about serious staffing problems within their hospital and they were prevented from doing so, on the orders of the hospital's own management, in an unnecessarily aggressive way. I personally regret that my name was associated with an event at which West Hills Hospital security staff and administrators acted so disgracefully and the administration of West Hills Hospital should be ashamed that they stood by while their own workers were assaulted and intimidated."

Kay Carney 510-773-7229 Thea Lavin 510-520-7732

SOURCE SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West

CONTACT: Kay Carney, +1-510-773-7229, or Thea Lavin, +1-510-520-7732, both of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West