Published in the January 2 – 15, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Lydia Reyes

Since it opened in 1989, St. Louise Regional Hospital has been a quality, safety-net facility, providing care to thousands of patients in the region each year who lacked health insurance. The hospital allowed people to see a doctor and get treated, something which both helped them get back on their feet, and strengthened our community by having healthier and more productive residents.

Thankfully, that nearly 20-year record of serving the community will remain intact after Santa Clara County announced Dec. 10 it will purchase St. Louise Regional Hospital and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, which are currently owned by Verity Health.

The county will provide stability to a health system that has teetered on uncertainty following Verity’s bankruptcy in August 2018.

As grateful as the public should be for the county’s purchase, residents should also be aware of the dedication of the caregivers who have stood by patients and the hospital through years of financial turmoil, from the sale by previous owner Daughters of Charity Health in 2015, through the county’s management, which is expected to begin no later than Feb. 25, 2019.

Rather than flee for more secure and possibly higher paying employment elsewhere, hundreds of healthcare workers stayed at St. Louise because of our commitment to the hospital’s mission: to serve the poor in our community.

We understand how critical our role is in preserving one of the few places for affordable healthcare in our region, and the last thing we wanted to do was leave our patients vulnerable and scared about who would care for them.

Now, we have a chance to make the hospital even stronger by retaining and attracting quality employees. The first way to make that happen is to protect workers’ retirement benefits and paid leave. Under the terms of the sale, Santa Clara County can void the existing labor contract between workers and St. Louise Regional Hospital, which affects 189 employees, and move them under the contract covering other Santa Clara County workers who don’t work at the hospital.

The community has an obligation to ensure that caregivers who have devoted years of love and loyalty to the hospital are treated fairly. We worked too long to risk having our pensions and paid leave erased by a bankruptcy court or the county because they may be mistakenly considered a financial burden.

During the years, some employees accrued hundreds of hours of paid leave because our high patient loads didn’t allow for us to take off for rest or family vacations. It was a benefit we rightly collected, and to withdraw all those accumulated days off would be a blow to workers, and the patients we care for. The county should avoid a rush to the exits by longtime employees who may leave for other hospitals where their skills are valued.

We are eager to see how the transition to county ownership plays out at St. Louise Regional Hospital, so that it may continue being a reliable and outstanding source of patient care. Workers live by the hospital’s mission every day. We hope nothing thwarts that in the coming months.

Lydia Reyes is an admitting clerk at St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy. She wrote this for Morgan Hill Life. 

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