Ashley Momoh was born in Oakland and was treated for sickle cell anemia at Children’s Hospital Oakland, a renowned medical institution known for its chronic disease research and mission to care for the sickest children regardless of insurance.
“Growing up with a chronic illness, the children’s hospital played an important role as a support system for my family,” said Momoh. “Then it felt like a community health center that was warm and compassionate compared to other hospitals. The children’s hospital is really like a jewel. ”
At a virtual community meeting organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers with about a hundred people Wednesday night, Momoh, 23, said care changed when Oakland Children’s Hospital teamed up with the University of California, San Francisco, to create UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland did almost eight years ago.
“Instead of focusing on a curated health plan, I started meeting with more medical students and medical groups who were essentially intrigued by my condition,” said Momoh. “I no longer felt this playful and lively energy in the hospital.”
The town hall on Wednesday was a continuation of longstanding complaints from some workers and patients at Oakland Children’s Hospital who say the merger with UCSF has fundamentally changed operations at the facility on Martin Luther King Junior Way near the Berkeley border – staff and patients .
Lorna Fernandes, a UCSF spokeswoman, told The Oaklandside in an email that the complaints are incorrect and come at a time when UCSF is in the middle of contract negotiations with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, or NUHW, the therapists and Clinical Social represents workers, psychologists, and many other categories of employees at Children’s.
“It is disappointing that in the midst of our negotiations, the NUHW is bona fide promoting misleading and inaccurate allegations to get the only remaining contract for the employees they represent,” wrote Fernandes.
Fernandes also noted that UCSF has invested $ 316 million in “rebuilding and upgrading Oakland Hospital facilities,” including a new outpatient pavilion and pediatric intensive care unit, and plans to invest an additional $ 1 billion in to invest in further construction and renovation of the Oakland campus.
A complicated merger
As The Oaklandside reported in February, former board members as well as past and current employees have raised concerns about how the children’s hospital’s affiliation with UCSF has affected its mission and the level of care for families in East Bay.
The 2014 merger gave the children’s hospital some financial stability while allowing the hospital to remain a separate non-profit organization. It also promised to help the hospital get more involved in academic research and have better access to philanthropic donations, The Oaklandside previously reported.
“But doctors, nurses, health workers, and patients who CHO serves tell a different story,” said Laura Nakamura, cardiac sonographer at Walnut Creek Children’s Hospital.
The merger resulted in higher fees for its patients, relocated some of its most sought-after services to San Francisco, and lost doctors and specialists, particularly in its internationally renowned sickle cell anemia program.
This week, UCSF announced that it had received $ 17 million in research funding to start a study on using CRISPR gene editing technology to hopefully find a cure for sickle cell anemia. In the announcement, UCSF named the grant the largest in the hospital’s history.
A recurring problem, some children’s hospital staff said, is how often patients are diverted from the Oakland facility to the UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in San Francisco, an 11-mile drive or one-hour journey on public transportation from the Oakland Children’s Hospital .
Cecilia Morales, an office worker at Children’s Hospital since 2007, said she noticed that those sent to San Francisco are privately insured, but the UCSF is not answering questions from NUHW members about the criteria for referring patients there be used.
“Patients continue to be forced to go into town against their will,” said Morales. “It’s very unfair to families, especially those on low incomes and unable to travel to San Francisco.”
When Clarissa Doutherd gave birth to her son 14 years ago, they were not housed and he was admitted to the children’s hospital several times with severe asthma and pneumonia.
As the executive director of Parent Voices Oakland – a grassroots parent-run organization committed to affordable, accessible, quality childcare – Doutherd doesn’t know if she could have come over to San Francisco for all-round care for her son.
“These were life and death situations,” said Doutherd. “And I don’t know where I would be if I weren’t near my home, if there weren’t any health care workers who would understand I’m sick, who won’t marginalize me or judge me or put me in Ask a question “that and only provided the care my son needed.”
Martha Kuhl – who has worked as a nurse at the children’s hospital for nearly four decades and is also treasurer of the California Nurses Association and the first vice president of the Alameda Labor Council – asked UCSF why some patients are being sent to San Francisco and the decision behind it have remained unanswered for years.
“Anecdotally, we’ve heard that children with insurance are directed in one direction and children without insurance stay in the children’s home [Oakland],” She said.
Kuhl and others were concerned about fewer respiratory disease treatment services, one of the main reasons children are hospitalized outside of a pandemic.
“Reducing this service has had a significant impact on our patients, not to mention longer waiting times and less disease prevention,” she said. “All of these things harm our patients.”
Fernandes said, however, that the UCSF sends its patients and doctors in both directions across the Bay Bridge, “whichever location is best suited to ensure the specific care of their patients”.
“Claims that patients are being sent away from Oakland are misleading because they give a false and incomplete picture of how a single dual-site pediatric health system works,” Fernandes said via email.
Local officials weigh in
In addition to the child staff, locally elected officials attending the town hall virtual meeting also expressed concern about the changes in the children’s hospital and its impact on families in East Bay.
Dan Kalb, a member of Oakland City Council who hosted a similar forum on children earlier this year, said executives needed to reconsider the hospital’s relationship with UCSF, especially after hearing concerns about the diversion of certain patients from Oakland to San Francisco .
“That should be a thing of the past,” he said of Children’s Oakland patients who had to go to San Francisco for care. “That should be an experiment that’s over.”
Oakland Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao was once a single mother who lived in her car with her son. She said it would have been difficult if they had been forced to be cared for in San Francisco, which would have included paying bridge tolls, parking, and other expenses when money was already tight.
“How can we ask people to make these decisions? It’s cruel. It’s really cruel, ”said Thao. “I really believe we should not let profits somehow trump people’s livelihoods and basic health care needs, especially their children and families.”
Californian MP Mia Bonta, whose district is Oakland, spoke about it when one of her children was two years old and had a respiratory crisis. She said that at the Children’s Hospital they were fortunate to have “the beauty and utility of people who were open and willing to take care of us with incredible grace in our darkest moments.” Taking that worry out of the East Bay and needing a car or BART ride, she said, “is, frankly, heartbreaking. We didn’t expect that from this merger. “