County Medical Center Settles Nurses’ Contract

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday April 28, 2006

Finalizing a settlement reached after a year of contract negotiations with its 2,000 registered nurses, the Alameda County Medical Center turned this week to shore up its remaining nagging budget problems. 

Members of Service Employees International Union 616 voted 4-1 last week to ratify a three-year contract with the medical center, and center trustees unanimously approved the agreement at this week’s trustee meeting. The contract provides a 4 percent across-the-board wage increase beginning the end of March this year, with additional 4.5 percent increases the following two years. 

ACMC CEO Wright Lassiter said that with the Local 616 approval “we have all of our outstanding labor issues resolved. It was a very long negotiation, but I think it ended well.” 

The negotiations began under Lassiter’s management predecessor at ACMC, Tennessee-based management consultants Cambio Health Solutions. Cambio was hired by the medical center in early 2004 to analyze ACMC’s finances. The company’s involvement with ACMC ended when Lassiter was hired last September. 

The rest of the fiscal news for ACMC was not so good. Lassiter and ACMC Chief Financial Officer Geoff Dottery told trustees this week that the medical center continues to run in excess of a million dollars a month behind what was projected in the budget produced by Cambio before it left the center, and is still projecting an $11 million figure over budget for the entire fiscal year. 

Dottery said that one primary cause of last month’s budget deficit was $221,000 in larger retirement costs than was anticipated. Lassiter and trustee board finance chair Stanley M. Schiffman said that in the past, ACMC accepted the projected retirement figures given them by county officials but that has now changed. 

“This is the first time that our staff is being actively involved in developing retirement amount information in conjunction with the county,” Schiffman said. 

Lassiter also told trustees that the recently completed Margin Audit Process, in which more than 80 staff members and consultants “looked at every line item in the budget for cost savings and improvements” over a 4-month period, has resulted in recommendations of $23 million a year in savings. Trustees have scheduled a public hearing on the Margin Audit Process report for May 9. 

“With the margin audit process suggestions implemented, I hope we will be able to move forward with a balanced budget,” Lassiter said. 

Meanwhile, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors moved this week to fill one of the two vacancies on the 11-member ACMC board of trustees, approving the appointment of former Berkeley City Police Chief and Compton City Manager Ron Nelson on Tuesday morning on the nomination of Supervisor Scott Haggerty. 

Nelson sat in on Tuesday’s board meeting but was unable to participate because he had not yet been sworn in. Health management professional Gwen Sykes was removed from the ACMC board last month in a disputed vote by county supervisors, and former Pleasanton Mayor Tom Pico resigned for health reasons earlier this month. A spokesperson for the Board of Supervisors said Nelson replaced Pico..