“Dear Seattle Times….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:20 am


My name is Andrew, and I recently (mid-2019) underwent a kidney transplant at Swedish Medical Center’s Seattle hospital, with the aid and coordination of their Organ Transplant Center. My recovery has progressed steadily and by the numbers. My experience with Swedish was the best I could possibly imagine under the circumstances, and I owe my life—literally owe my life—to the skilled and dedicated staff. From the folks who run the desks and phones, the patient coordinators, the lab technicians, up to the on-staff nephrologists Drs. Vadivel and Reddy, and the surgeon (shout out to Dr. Precht and his team) who performed the procedure. And of course and especially, the countless nurses, caregivers and other medical support staff who are the indispensable front-line infantry of any medical center.

As with everyone on Swedish’s medical staff, they deserve my eternal gratitude; mine and countless others. They also deserve a living wage and decent working conditions.

We seem to be on a terrible downhill slide in our healthcare system….in truth, in so many aspects of our modern day-to-day existence. We have chosen to allow our most crucial public services to be commodified, letting the Invisible Hand of the marketplace determine the quality and capacity of these institutions. Suppressing the workforce in the name of efficiency and rock-bottom prices isn’t even a good idea if you’re selling McNuggets. Applying such practices to a system intended to keep body and soul together in times of crisis is a recipe for disaster.

People should be aware that so much of what the union is asking for comes down to patient safety. Chronic understaffing of hospitals should not be SOP. Permanent “Crunch Time” is not even acceptable in the video game industry. Why should it be boilerplate practice for a Critical Care nurse? How does that make any sense?

The employees of Swedish Seattle aren’t asking for much; in fact, Providence Health Systems (the entity that owns Swedish as well as their own eponymous facilities) offers their Portland employees a package that essentially mirrors what our Seattle workers are asking for. This is not a financial issue for Providence. This not-for-profit group earns approximately $700 million annually. They pay their top 16 executives approximately $40 million a year. They have cash reserves of around $11 billion-with-a-b dollars, some of which they are undoubtedly dipping into to import and pay non-union staff during the strike, along with bonuses, housing allowances and travel costs. Or perhaps it’s being covered by their strike insurance, if such a thing exists.

I would be very worried if I were slated for a procedure during the strike period. Not that out-of-town workers are necessarily not highly qualified, but they are unfamiliar with the facilities and culture in which they now find themselves operating. That would give me pause.

The sole purpose of Providence’s refusal to bargain in good faith seems fairly obvious under the circumstances: they would like to break this union. In the eyes of senior management, the most sensible strategy is to spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to pull the SEIU’s teeth, so that next contract they can more efficiently push their employees a little further—or a lot further—down that slide I mentioned earlier, on the dizzying race to the bottom. Where, in their market-driven Utopia, nurses are as interchangeable as Subway Sandwich Artists and health care is doled out at the exact rate and level of quality that keeps money spent on lawsuits lower than annual revenue.

I would hate to think where I would be had we already reached that point. Probably in an urn on my wife’s bedside table.

Thanks for reading,


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