June 12, 2024

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Unions stage protest; PeaceHealth announces ER will close Dec. 1

6 min read
Sen. James Manning asked Gov. Tina Kotek and all legislative colleagues to stand with him and the people of Eugene in demanding that the University District Hospital remain open.

by John Quetzalcoatl Murray with KEPW News reports

PeaceHealth announced that the University District emergency room will cease operations Dec. 1 at 7 a.m. The city has appealed to the governor to intervene. Reporting from a recent die-in, KEPW News Reporter DJ Suss D:

DJ Suss D: We’re still awaiting a decision from the Oregon Health Authority on what they intend to do about the closure of Eugene’s only hospital. Mayor Vinis is appalled by the closure, and she has called on the Oregon Health Authority to recognize the implications to our city’s public health and emergency preparedness to prioritize healthcare and public safety and to require a more lifesaving solution. At a die-in in front of the hospital on Friday, Oct. 13, locals and Sen. James Manning asked PeaceHealth about the message they’re sending to the community.

[00:00:45] Sen. James Manning: You know, it’s really a sad day when corporations put profit above people. Yeah. I remember not long ago PeaceHealth had out a billboard that said, ‘We see you.’ PeaceHealth: Do you actually see us? (Yeah! Applause)

[00:01:14] Losing our community hospital is a travesty. It is not justified. And the only reason that they’re doing it is because it’s not patient-centered care. It’s profit. I believe over $8 billion.

[00:01:33] Here in Eugene, we are the second-largest city in this state, and having direct access to healthcare is going to become a huge problem. We’re going to lose lives. (Keep the hospital alive!) We’re going to lose lives. And it’s about profit over patient-centered care.

[00:02:00] Today, I stand with ONA (Oregon Nurses Association) to call upon PeaceHealth, the Oregon Health Authority, Gov. Tina Kotek to reverse and intervene in this disastrous decision to close this hospital.

[00:02:26] And we have Duck football games, we have international events. What happens when this hospital closes down? When we have a Cascadia incident that disrupts services, perhaps will take out I-5, where do the people that I represent here in the great city of Eugene, where do they go? It is not an urgent care center. We don’t need more urgent care centers. We need this hospital open.

[00:03:05] Gov. Kotek and all of my legislative colleagues, I ask you to stand with me and stand with all of the people here today to demand that this hospital remain open. PeaceHealth, I have to ask you now: Do you see us now? (Applause)

[00:03:32] DJ Suss D: First responders say that there’s an urgent need for the hospital and that PeaceHealth’s business decisions that led to the closure did not have the community they claimed to be a part of at heart.

[00:03:42] Chelsea Swift: Hello again everyone. My name is Chelsea Swift. I’m a crisis worker and medic with CAHOOTS, our Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.

[00:03:52] And I’m a labor organizer who helped form the CAHOOTS and HOOTS union with the Teamsters Local 206, a unionization effort currently bargaining for our first contract, and one that has grown to include five White Bird departments total. Growing our membership to over 100 unionized White Bird workers, or almost half of our workforce.

[00:04:16] And it’s because of that organizing work and my work in this community over the last nine years that brings me here today. And since PeaceHealth’s profit-driven decision to close the University District Hospital was announced this summer, unions, workers, and patients themselves who have rightfully protested this decision have been provided with various reasons to justify this absolutely transformative loss.

[00:04:47] Numbers of admits have been twisted to provide an incomplete picture. Patients in need have been accused of accessing care incorrectly. PeaceHealth claims beds aren’t being filled when they are the ones who made those beds unavailable in the first place. And so on. All stories we are told make this decision seem reasonable to the untrained eye. All stories that stop making sense when you actually talk to the workers who see and bring dozens of patients at this hospital every single day.

[00:05:21] We just went through a global pandemic. Does it feel reasonable to shut down a hospital and eliminate hundreds of healthcare jobs? No.

[00:05:31] We live in a city that has previously been found to have the highest homeless population in the United States per capita. A homeless population that cannot navigate waitlists and primary care offices and telehealth. A homeless population that PeaceHealth has demonized as unworthy patients. Does it feel reasonable to shut down the primary place where they receive mental health and healthcare? No.

[00:05:57] We live in a county with a suicide rate 65 percent higher than the national average with some of the highest youth suicide rates in the country. Does it feel reasonable to close our psychiatric emergency room? No.

[00:06:11] We are out here supporting nurses and healthcare workers who had secured a years-long union contract just days before PeaceHealth turned around and told the same workers they were shutting down their workplace. Does that seem respectable or reasonable? No.

[00:06:26] PeaceHealth claims they operate UDH at a profit loss, but this so-called nonprofit healthcare corporation has $8 billion in their bank account, and their CEO Liz Dunne makes $6.2 million a year. Does that seem fair or reasonable to you? No.

[00:06:47] I don’t know about you, but as someone who brings sick and struggling patients to this hospital every single shift that I work, I am not interested in playing the game of what is reasonable or not, and I’m not interested in living in a country whose health care system is dictated by capital and profit in the first place.

[00:07:08] This is about right and wrong, and this is about life or death. The decision-makers of the ruling class are always asking poor and working people to be reasonable as they disrespect us, degrade us, and reject our expertise in favor of a bottom-line consultant recommendations and law and order.

[00:07:31] I’m asking everyone here today to not let go of the fear or the sadness or the anger that you felt when you first heard about the decision to close this hospital. Because those responses are reasonable and justified, and I want you to channel that energy into solidarity with the groups and the people that you see here today. Do not only work towards a world that has hospitals and healthcare, but housing and everything that everyone here deserves outright. Let’s save University District Hospital, and let’s save our community. Thank you.

[00:08:08] Tom Peck: Hi, my name is Tom Peck. I’m part of the Save Our Hospital Eugene. As other speakers have said, healthcare is under attack in a variety of areas and this closure of this emergency room is just one example of what’s happening and it’ll continue.

[00:08:26] This coalition needs to stick together and grow and build relationships with, already with the union, with students, and working people in this, in this town. People will say, ‘Well, the closure of this emergency room, it really doesn’t matter because we’re transporting people, critical patients, already to Riverbend.’

[00:08:50] What they don’t tell you is: Time is critical. If you’re having a heart attack, stroke, you’re bleeding, time is critical. If you live on the south side or west side of the river, your travel time doubles, and that doesn’t even include the amount of time it takes to get to your house. If there is an earthquake in this town, everybody on the south side, the west side of the river, are out of luck in terms of getting medical care.

[00:09:22] And they are expecting large numbers of people to be severely injured in a major earthquake in this town. So I just strongly urge everybody to think about what we need to do. Organizing is critical at this time and this organization will make the difference. Thank you very much.

[00:09:46] DJ Suss D: The Oregon Nurses Association is strongly opposed to the closure. For more information, go to SaveEugenesHospital.com. For KEPW News, I’m DJ Suss D.


Sen. James Manning thanked the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, CAHOOTS, Oregon Nurses Association, AFSCME, SEIU, and Health Care for All.

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