THE COUNTY BUDGET CRISIS : 100 Olive View Workers Stage Protest : Health care: Demonstration at hospital in Sylmar is seen as a last-ditch bid to save jobs before cutbacks are decided on.

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It should be no surprise to find people who aren’t feeling well at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar. On Monday there was Kim Contreras, who’s been suffering from migraine headaches recently; Marti Marquez, whose stomach has been queasy of late, and Rita Nolasco, who hasn’t been sleeping well.

But don’t look for their names on Olive View’s patient rolls. Look on the payroll, at least for now. The three women are sick with worry, wondering whether their next paycheck will be their last.

Turning fear into action, Nolasco, Marquez and Contreras pinned black ribbons to their blouses, wrote up signs, then used their Monday lunch hour to join 100 other employees on a protest march around the medical center to save their jobs. It was a last-ditch effort before what many regard as Doomsday--today--when the county Board of Supervisors hears a plan for drastic reductions in its health budget.


“It’s all coming to a head,” said Contreras, 39, a computer operator at Olive View for the past four years.

The bleakest cost-cutting scenario calls for Olive View, the San Fernando Valley’s only county-run hospital, to be shut down completely. An alternate plan unveiled Monday would preserve the medical center, which employs about 2,500 people, but jettison at least 30 walk-in health centers and clinics.

For many at Olive View, neither prospect holds any comfort. Employees huddled to discuss the county’s plans, mixed with wild rumors of hope and disaster.

“The rumor mill is tremendous,” said clerk JoAnne Swafford, 53.

Swafford, a clerk who acts as a liaison between Olive View and the county’s health centers, is in a particularly bad situation. Whether it’s the hospital or the health centers that close, her job is on shaky ground.

Consensus has it that the ax will fall no matter what; it’s just a question of where and how deep, some said, remarking on a sense of resignation that kept more employees inside the hospital than were brought out through anger and activism for Monday’s demonstration.

“They don’t think it’s worth the fight,” said 29-year-old Eric Servin, “but I don’t believe that.”


As a construction laborer for the hospital, Servin has been busy with renovations at Olive View, the only county hospital to meet seismic safety standards. A re-carpeting project netted Servin more than 15 hours of overtime in the last two weeks--extra cash to pay for rent and baby-sitting bills for his year-old daughter.

Working at the hospital runs in Servin’s family: His mother supervises the information desk, and his sister helps staff the billing department. Everyone is jittery.

“We can’t sleep,” Servin said between blasts of the whistle hanging around his neck and chants directed against Gov. Pete Wilson. “We’re nervous.”

Uncertainty is the biggest foe. Marti Marquez, a patient resource worker, has a list of unanswered questions. Will she have a job next week? Can she plan a summer vacation with her husband and 10-year-old son? Or should money be hoarded now to meet the monthly bills that will still come like clockwork?

Worst of all, where will she find another job in an economy still gripped by recession?

“We’re all going to be out looking for the same job that’s not there,” said Marquez, 42, mopping a brow sweaty from the hot noontime sun. “Sometimes it makes my stomach queasy just thinking about it.”