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Commentary: UCI's patients, and workers, deserve better

Since the Affordable Care Act came online, 20 million more Americans have access to healthcare, including a million more Californians.

For healthcare providers like UC Irvine Medical Center, this means more customers. In fact, according to its last financial report, UCIMC has seen substantial increases in both patient admissions and outpatient visits over the past year.

But instead of investing in the proper staffing it needs to deliver quality care to more people, UCI is moving in the opposite direction.

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Last week, UCI Medical Center announced that despite recording a $70 million profit last year, it is eliminating 175 jobs. These jobs include nurses, medical assistants and the technologists who monitor cardiac conditions, care for the mentally ill, or operate CT scanners.

Among the individuals who lost their jobs are experienced caregivers who have spent more than 30 years at UCIMC. UCI claims that the cuts are necessary to maintain a healthy bottom line. But UCI's workers know differently.

This spring, a survey of more than 5,000 UCI patient care and service workers revealed that 91% are concerned that their departments are understaffed, and another 40% report being injured on the job.

So who wins in all of this? Certainly not patients, the frontline care workers on the chopping block, nor those left behind who will again be forced to do more with less.

The real winners appear to be UCI's outside management consultants, a growing army of non-clinical UCI bureaucrats and UCI Health's Chancellor and CEO Howard Federoff.

In addition to his $800,000 annual public university salary, Federoff gets a 20% bonus for hitting the pre-determined profit targets these job cuts are allegedly aimed at realizing.

UCI is, after all, a supposedly nonprofit, tax-exempt public hospital, the frontline in California's effort to meet the challenge of serving more healthcare consumers.

At the end of the day, the cuts underway at the very profitable UCI Medical Center will make that job harder, not easier. UCI's patients, and workers, deserve better.

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KATHRYN LYBARGER is president of AFSCME Local 3299, the UC system's largest employee union.

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