Peacehealth Die-In Protest

Brigham #health #labor #union

On Friday, October 13th, members of the Eugene and University of Oregon community gathered in front of the PeaceHealth University District Hospital to protest the proposed closing of the only major medical center proximate to the U of O and downtown Eugene. The nearest hospital for nearly 200,000 residents will now be Riverbend Hospital in Springfield, which is nearly an additional 15 minute journey compared to the current commute.

I talked to Chris Rompala, a staff nurse at Riverbend and the chair of the Oregon Nurses Association bargaining team, to get a better idea of why this protest was happening, and the symbolism of the “die-in” method.

“The intent of this action is to show PeaceHealth executives that our community does really need these resources. We plan to lay for 15 minutes, because that’s about the amount of time it takes to get to Riverbend.”

As Rajeev Ravisankar, a member of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) brought up during his time at the podium, this 15 minutes may seem miniscule on its face, but the consequences are, as both he and Chris put it, “dire.”

“From the time that it could take to get to the hospital especially on high-traffic days to the added pressures on ambulance services to the delays in receiving care in overburdened emergency rooms with long wait times and short staffing.”

Chris also addressed this subsequent effect of PeaceHealth’s decision, “the longer it takes to receive adequate care, the more dire the situation ends up being for the patients.”

Awareness of the impact that this closing will have on not only the student population, but the general populace as well, is vital in combating this catastrophe of an executive decision. These reactions are not overreactions in the slightest, as the drastic effects of this measure will not be fully understood until they are felt.

When I inquired as to the reasoning behind the PeaceHealth executives’ decision, the answer was anything but surprising.

“They told us it’s because of money…they have been closing rooms in our facility for at least the last year.”

Chelsea Swift, a representative of CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), a non-criminal emergency response team in Eugene, touched on the hypocrisy of a not-for-profit hospital with surplus funds at their disposal looking to close down a location that has a dire need for the medical care it provides. Not only does this affect those going to the University District Hospital, but it also means lost jobs for the workers who, just recently, signed a union deal for the upcoming year.

“We live in a county with a suicide rate 65% higher than the national average with some of the highest youth suicide rates in the country. Does it seem reasonable to close down our psychiatric emergency room? No. We are out here supporting nurses and hospital workers, who had just secured a year’s 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. PeaceHealth claims they operate UDH at a loss, but this so-called non-profit healthcare corporation has 8 billion dollars in their bank account, and their CEO Liz Dunn makes 6.2 million dollars a year. Does that seem fair or reasonable to you? No.”

Chelsea speaks not only to this specific instance of corporate greed leading to a major sacrifice made on the behalf of everyday citizens here in Eugene, but also to the healthcare crisis plaguing those in need of affordable medical care across the country. The placement of capital over human need is abhorrent, but has become a norm. Chelsea touches on this point elegantly as well, as a flurry of supporting honks canvas the background of her convictions.

“As someone who brings sick and struggling patients into this hospital every single shift that I work, I am not interested in playing the game of what is reasonable or not. I’m not interested in living in a county whose healthcare system is dictated by capital and profit in the first place. 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. I am asking everyone here today to not let go of the fear, the sadness, or the anger that you felt when you first heard about the decision to close this hospital, because those responses are reasonable.”

To follow along with this ongoing dispute and for information on further actions you can take to show your support, visit