Hospital Clears a Key Merger Hurdle

Written by Alameda Sun Published: FRIDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2013 05:12

Efforts to combine the operations of struggling Alameda and San Leandro hospitals with the public Alameda Health System (AHS) cleared what proponents called a critical hurdle when Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1008 last Friday.

Assembly members Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, co-authored the bill that eliminates the requirement that fulltime workers from the two hospitals become eligible for a county pension when the deals close and they become AHS employees. It also allows employees of the two hospitals who work half time or more and are enrolled in pension plans now to maintain a pension benefit.

Instead of joining the Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association (ACERA), unions representing employees at both hospitals will consider alternate pension plans as they bargain with AHS for new contracts.

Proponents have billed the merger and affiliation as the best option for saving the valued but struggling hospitals — and the jobs they provide. The mergers also offers an opportunity for AHS to expand its service offerings and geographic reach. The existing system includes Highland and Fairmont hospitals, John George Psychiatric Hospital and four wellness clinics.

AHS managers had already been working to put cheaper retirement plans in place, before proposed efforts to acquire San Leandro Hospital and affiliate with Alameda Hospital came about, AHS Chief Human Resources Officer, Jeanette Loudon-Corbett, said.

The system, formerly known as Alameda County Medical Center, split off from Alameda County in 1996. Its full-time employees remained enrolled in the county retirement plan, she said. Adding the 473 full-time workers from the San Leandro and Alameda hospitals who would have been eligible for the county pension plan would have cost AHS more than $3 million a year, she said — more than it could afford.

At the same time, leaders of the eight unions representing workers at the hospitals were concerned that the part-timers who make up the majority of the staffs would be left out in the cold if the deals went through. Fran Jefferson, regional director of Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, said that 189 part-time pharmacists, nurses, dietary and other workers at San Leandro Hospital could find themselves without a pension, if an expected transfer from Sutter Health to AHS goes through.

The transfer of San Leandro Hospital is supposed to be finalized by Oct. 31. An agreement to affiliate Alameda Hospital with AHS is expected to be completed by the end of this month. The affiliation is slated to go through in early 2014.

After those deals are completed, union leaders and AHS management will hash out pension deals as they bargain over new contracts.

Alameda Hospital’s workers are expected to become AHS employees within two years of the deal closing, Loudon-Corbett said.

The bill received the official support from AHS and all eight unions whose members the mergers will affect.

“Everyone is sensitive to what may look on the surface like a watering down of pension plans. It’s not that at all. We would never agree to that,” Jefferson said. Read this entire article and more Alameda news at http://webh.it/alamedasun.