Healthcare Workers Strike Over Medical Debt and Protest at UPMC Board Meeting

On Tuesday, May 28 healthcare workers of UPMC-Presbyterian went on a one-day strike against the supposed-charitable organization. Striking hospital workers, patients, elected leaders, community and faith leaders and taxpayers from across Pennsylvania demonstrated their outrage over labor violations, sky-rocketing medical debt and with signs reading “UPMC Respect Out Rights”, “UPMC Cancel Our Debt” and “UPMC Care for All Patients” and chanted “Romoff, get off it. You’re not a nonprofit.”

The consent decree between UPMC and Highmark health insurance is set to expire June 30. If this happens, more than 100,000 patients across Pennsylvania will be locked out of the UPMC. For many Pennsylvanians, UPMC is the only available healthcare facility in their area.

“After countless surgeries, battles with breast and lung cancer, and a pacemaker for my heart, I can say the doctors at UPMC St. Margaret have saved my life more than once,” said Evie Bodick a UPMC patient who will be locked out on June 30th. “I’m 74 years old, and the thought of starting over with entirely new doctors is overwhelming. I’m not alone. I have witnessed other seniors crying in waiting rooms, terrified because UPMC is stripping them of the care they need and trust. How can a charity with billions of dollars close their doors to seniors who’ve paid taxes to support them all our lives? UPMC makes us feel like the lives of seniors do not matter.”

Amid public outcry over UPMC’s continued disregard of its obligations as a charitable institution, hundreds of patients, elected officials, community and faith leaders, and taxpayers from across Pennsylvania flooded a UPMC Presbyterian-Shadyside board meeting on Tuesday.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, UPMC “engaged in such egregious and widespread misconduct so as to demonstrate a general disregard for employees statutory rights.” Workers are demanding union rights, higher wages, good benefits, that UPMC cancel their medical debt, and put an end to offensive policies like UPMC’s recent proposal to cancel the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

“UPMC is my employer, my insurer and my healthcare provider. That means UPMC has a say over nearly important every aspect of my life. They could change it for the better if they wanted, but UPMC sees its workers just like it sees its patients: things it can squeeze for extra profits” said Sahara Littrice who works in dietary services at UPMC Presbyterian. “We are here to tell the UPMC board that the hospital workers and patients of our communities are human beings, not numbers, and we demand the dignity, whether we are in UPMC beds or making them.”

UPMC workers have been leaders in their communities in pushing UPMC to honor its obligations to the people of Pennsylvania. Just last year, UPMC workers rallied with allies and neighbors in Pittsburgh to push for a community benefits agreement when UPMC announced it would invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build a specialty vision facility on the campus of Mercy Hospital, instead of investing in the urgent healthcare needs of city residents.

UPMC workers have struggled with low pay and medical debt and have been fighting to form their union so that they can them build better jobs, better lives and healthier communities. In April, workers delivered a letter to the Attorney General outlining how UPMC’s low pay and high-deductible, high co-pay health insurance exposes them to debt they often cannot repay. A recent survey of UPMC hospital service workers showed that 60% of respondents owe medical debt to their own employer.

Without a decision to extend the consent decree on June 30th, thousands of patients will be shut out of UPMC facilities. These patients will lose access to the doctors they have known and trusted for years and could be exposed to dangerous gaps in their care once they are locked out of UPMC. In recent weeks, more than 10,000 patients have attended town halls, signed a petition and visited lawmakers in Harrisburg to applaud AG Shapiro and urge the passage of Senate bills 310 & 311 and House bills 1211 & 1213, all of which require providers to accept any and all willing insurers.

This web post is a selection from SEIU Healthcare PA’s press release.