Unions at opposite sides of debate about hospital chain sale

Unions at opposite sides of debate about hospital chain sale
St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown is one of six hospitals operated by the Daughters of Charity Health System. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Two powerful healthcare unions are slugging it out over the future of a chain of six struggling Catholic hospitals in California, including two in Los Angeles County.

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is scheduled to decide this week whether to permit the sale of the Daughters of Charity Health System and its six nonprofit hospitals to for-profit Prime Healthcare Services Inc. of Ontario.

Among the six hospitals are St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood and St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown.

Members of the California Nurses Assn. and the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West are on opposite sides of the proposed $843-million sale – and their debate intensified on Tuesday.


Dozens of CNA nurses demonstrated outside Harris' Sacramento office, urging her to approve the sale. Members of that union said they fear the hospitals will close if the sale is denied, wiping out thousands of high-paying jobs and cutting off vital medical services to underserved communities.

The SEIU-UHW, meanwhile, attacked the nurses' union for supporting a sale it says will lead to reduced services to the poor.

"To jump in the boat with Prime and just be shilling for them, I think, is shameful," said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW.

Members of the nurses' union said they believe the sale to Prime Healthcare is the best option to keep the hospitals open.

"There are six hospitals that have the potential to close by the end of the month if this sale is not approved," said Deborah Burger, president of the CNA.

Daughters of Charity Chief Executive Robert Issai had urged Harris to approve the sale. He said the six hospitals are losing more than $10 million a month and will file for bankruptcy if the sale is rejected.

He said he's already developed a plan to immediately cut services at the hospitals if Harris blocks the Prime Healthcare purchase.

"We're hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," Issai said Tuesday.

As part of the deal, Prime has agreed to pay off more than $400 million of Daughters of Charity's tax-exempt bonds and other debt, while assuming nearly $300 million of pension liability.

Prime also promised to keep the six hospitals open for at least five years. The chain has said it would retain most of the hospitals' 7,600 jobs but would make some cutbacks in middle management.

In addition to the two in Los Angeles County, Daughters of Charity operates hospitals in San Jose, Gilroy, Moss Beach and Daly City.

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