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Doctors Pick Up Mops To Keep Hospital Running During Strike

November 13, 1986

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Flat on a stretcher, a tube in his nose and groggy from a respiratory ailment, John Figueroa applauded his doctors and the strike-bound hospital where he was being treated.

″Patient care at Kaiser has not suffered,″ he wheezed while approving physicians looked on.

But Maureen Anderson, a spokeswoman for the union that launched a walkout 2 1/2 weeks ago against the nation’s largest health maintenance organization, disagrees. She said Thursday that Kaiser has turned away some patients with serious health problems.

Kaiser was struck on Oct. 27 by 9,000 clerks, housekeeping employees, licensed vocational nurses, X-ray technicians, nursing assistants, EKG technicians and licensed respiratory therapists.

In addition, about 30 percent of the nursing staff at Kaiser facilities in San Francisco and Oakland are honoring strikers’ picket lines, said Kaiser spokesman Bob Hughes.

In San Francisco, as at most of the 26 Northern California Kaiser Permanente hospitals, clinics and one laboratory affected by the strike, doctors have had to answer phones, mop floors, file charts, clean bathrooms and make beds.

In addition to the doctors, physicians’ wives and former patients have volunteered to do odd jobs, said Kaiser spokeswoman Jennifer Cross.

″Everyone has a spirit of camaraderie unique to a strike,″ she said. ″Everyone is pulling together as a team. There is a sense of pride - this is your ship and you are sailing it.″

Routine appointments postponed at the beginning of the strike are being rescheduled, as is most elective surgery, Cross said, adding that the number of patients in the hospital has been cut to less than half the normal figure.

Hughes disputed Anderson’s statement about patients with serious health problems being turned away during the strike.

″We are unaware of any cases that require medical care that have been turned away,″ he said.

″We’ve had some patients admitted to other hospitals and paid for it, but I wouldn’t call that turned away,″ he said.

In addition to the cases Kaiser routinely refers to other hospitals, he said there had been about 150 ″strike-related″ referrals.

Kaiser officials and union representatives broke off talks on Wednesday without reaching an agreement.

Citing sharp competition in the health care field, Kaiser has proposed a pay freeze and a two-tier wage system that would pay newly hired employees 30 percent less at facilities in certain regions.

Local 250 of the Hospital and Institutional Workers Union is asking for a 5 percent raise in each of the next two years. The union also seeks the establishment of a monitoring committee, with management and union representatives, that would check patient care.

″Quality of care is a central issue in the strike,″ Anderson said.

At the San Francisco facility, about 950 Kaiser employees are on strike, Cross said. About 100 other non-union employees are honoring the lines, she added.

Strikers, however, have been flexible. On Monday, X-ray technician Marty Fong left the line with union blessing to help a man suffering from internal bleeding. She was the only one available to run the machine.

″I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to him,″ she said.

Meanwhile, doctors have displayed humor and ″esprit de corps″ handling other duties, said Dr. David Whitten, who ended a vacation to work as an emergency room nurse.

″The people who are here working really are dedicated to doing a good job and helping people. You can see the physical fatigue, but the emotional attitude is very dynamic and upbeat,″ he said, wearing a name tag wrapped in masking tape with the word ″nurse″ scrawled across it.

In pediatrics, Dr. Harold Tarnoff, a pediatric cardiologist, and Dr. Bruce Blumberg, a medical geneticist, have been working as housekeepers.

Dressed in drab, green scrubs, the two see patients between mopping floors, emptying trash cans, filling soap dispensers and cleaning sinks and toilets.

Tarnoff and Blumberg said in many ways, playing housekeeper is relaxing because they don’t have to make life-or-death decisions.

″I just worry about someone slipping on a wet floor,″ Blumberg quipped.

In the chart room, cardiologist Ralph Brindis has become so adept at filing that other employees affectionately call the doctor ″Ace.″

″I just sort of took it upon myself to get down here,″ he said. ″It’s more boring, but it’s obviously an important task. It’s not frustrating - it’s goal-oriented.″

Then there’s Ian Rogers, whose wife is a Kaiser dietician. He’s been hauling huge garbage cans daily, a thank-you for the good care he says he got during a 1975 hospital stay.

″They are always here for you and there comes a time when you have to say, ’Maybe it’s my turn to give something back,‴ he said, breathing heavily and wiping sweat from his flushed face.

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