Southern California Hospital Responds to 'Hero Pay' Mandate

Southern California Hospital officials this week called the new "hero pay" mandate as an "arbitrary and inequitable" law and expressed hopes the Culver City Council will revisit the issue before its takes effect later month.

Two weeks, the Council approved by a 3-2 vote the $5 per hour bonus pay for clinicians, nurses, aides, technicians, janitorial and housekeeping staff, security guards, food services workers, laundry workers, pharmacists, and non-managerial administrative staff at the local hospital. Councilmembers Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson cast the dissenting votes.

"The mandate will cost the hospital an additional $2.5 million at a time when hospitals are struggling to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic," Southern California Hospital in Culver City said in a statement.

Under the new ordinance, hospital workers shall be entitled to hazard pay for providing essential services during the pandemic and engaging in essential activities to mitigate the spread and the effects of COVID-19. It will take effect in June 24.

In its statement, Southern California Hospital mentioned that, throughout the pandemic, it did "the right thing to its employees, providing financial incentives to help alleviate personal burdens and ensure their safety. In other words, the hospital voluntarily provided "Hero Pay" early on."

The hospital also stressed the timing of the new mandate makes no sense. "California's COVID-19 measures will be lifted June 15 and for the past few weeks there have been zero COVID-19 cases in Southern California Hospital, and the hospital is now focused on how to expand its services to best meet the needs of the community," the statement said.

Following is the complete statement from Southern California Hospital:

"We believe that our frontline healthcare providers are indeed heroes. We recognize that they have courageously cared for our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to serve our community every day.

Throughout the pandemic, Southern California Hospital did the right thing to its employees, providing financial incentives to help alleviate personal burdens and ensure their safety. In other words, the hospital voluntarily provided "Hero Pay" early on. These additional benefits included:

- Hourly bonuses and a one-time bonus for staff directly involved in caring for our COVID-19 patients; Child-care reimbursement;

- Free meals for all hospital staff;

- A paid time off donation program that allowed employees to donate hours to fellow employees who had specific needs but no remaining hours; and

- Free hotel stays for employees needing overnight lodging during the pandemic.

While many of these efforts applied to all employees, there were special efforts made to support those who directly interacted with COVID-19 patients or the rooms where they were treated.

In addition to other COVID-19 safety measures, hospitals across the nation, including Southern California Hospital, had to spend millions of dollars to ensure staff and patient safety during the pandemic. Some of these extraordinary safety measures include comprehensive screenings of staff, visitors, and patients; PPE inventory; deep cleaning; cohorting of patients and workers; and vaccine clinics. The unbudgeted COVID-19 costs incurred by Southern California Hospital to date are $10.8 million.

The proposed ordinance would cost the hospital an additional $2.5 million at a time when hospitals are struggling to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic.

The proposed ordinance is arbitrary and inequitable. The "Hero Pay" ordinance is inequitable and excludes other essential workers including firefighters, paramedics, peace officers, transit workers, government employees, and others who played a vital role serving our communities during the past year.

Imposing a compensation mandate on one hospital is not only arbitrary, it fails to recognize the thousands of frontline workers that have been allies in our fight against COVID-19. So, then we must ask the question – why are some essential workers deserving of this bonus while others are not?

Emerging from the pandemic, hospitals are more financially challenged than ever to care for patients and communities; after-the-fact bonus pay would force painful decisions on how to cover the costs.

During the pandemic, Southern California Hospital at Culver City incurred significant financial losses from canceled and delayed procedures. They now face a challenging road to regain financial health while providing vital care and services to Culver City residents. As our hospital works to recover, we must be there 24-7 for our patients and community.

The pandemic and economic downturn also fueled a greater need for care of people with behavioral health conditions and substance use disorders. In addition, the downstream impacts of patients that have deferred care during the pandemic means these patients are now seeking care when their diseases are at a more advanced stage, placing even greater pressure on the hospital.

At the height of the winter surge, Los Angeles County hospitals served 35 percent of the state's COVID-19 population, yet these hospitals received less than 24 percent of the state's Provider Relief Fund (PRF) allocations. Is this the time for our own city to impose even more costs?

California hospitals are under particular financial duress as a result of the pandemic. They experienced more than $14 billion in lost revenue in 2020. Total federal support covered barely half ($8 billion) of the losses.

Southern California Hospital at Culver City has had a vital health care presence in the community for nearly 100 years. In a typical year, the hospital cares for approximately 21,000 emergency patients, 13,000 inpatients, perform more than 2,700 surgeries and treat some of the most vulnerable populations. Not only is the hospital integral to the well-being of the community, but it takes pride in caring for its valued employees.

This proposed ordinance is a solution in search of a problem. Currently, Southern California Hospital has ZERO COVID-19 cases. Governor Newsom has indicated that he will lift COVID-19 restrictions and fully open the economy across the state on June 15, and it is anticipated that Los Angeles County will follow his lead. 

Mandating temporary Hero Pay at Southern California Hospital three weeks after the crisis stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles has passed, and every Californian has been cleared to return to the workplace does not make sense."


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