Carmen Brown has spent the last two decades at the HCMC Pediatric Clinic, greeting patients, making appointments and helping them make sure they’re covered by insurance. HCMC recently announced about 200 layoffs plus numerous reassignments. That doubled Brown’s workload.
In a statement, the AFSCME Local 977 president says it’s because of her union activity.
“I’ve been a patient services coordinator for 20 years. We have a diverse community that comes to HCMC. You get to know the parents. You see the children grow up. There’s a family I’ve seen for three generations.
"I’m proud to help them make their appointments. When they’re having a bad time or problems, we’re there with that listening ear, there to comfort them, help them get their insurance, navigate through the system. We help them find where they’ve got to go. If there are problems and they can’t talk to a nurse right now, we help calm them down. There’s a lot the front desk does that I think they minimize at the hospital.
"They had moved me from the front desk back in 2013. Because of all the work at the front desk, the referrals weren’t getting done. I helped the patients with the process, helped with insurance, preauthorizations, scheduling appointments internally and externally, setting up surgeries. I could have 100 referrals a day.
"I enjoyed doing it. I was helping the families.
"When they did the layoffs, they told me they had to bring me back to the front desk. I asked what would happen to referrals and was told another department would take those on. But then my supervisor called a clerical meeting and said I’d be doing all the duties of the front desk plus the referrals. She told me when I had time, to squeeze them in.
"How do I do that with confidentiality? When I’m on the phone with insurance companies, I have to tell them the type of procedure, problems the patient is having, the name and address. Before, they had me in a room down the hall because they said they wanted confidentiality. Now when I do it, I sit at a desk behind the front desk. Patients can still hear me.
"They gave me one hour on Friday to do referrals for a week, 500 referrals in one hour. Now I have doctors bugging me every day. I have to tell them I’m sorry, I’m supposed to do the front desk as my priority.
"Last Friday, I had 400 referrals in there. That’s the backlog. It’s just one week. It’s going to build up.
"My supervisor, she never told the doctors I wasn’t going to be doing it. They found out by seeing me at the front desk. They’re very mad.
"I believe it’s an attack on my union activity. I knew it for sure when a coworker told me what the supervisor had been saying. My co-worker said we’re still going to be short-staffed up here because Carmen is union president, she goes to a lot of meetings. The supervisor said, ‘I’m going to be doing a lot of pushback on her union activity. That’s why I brought her back.’
"I’ve been targeted ever since I joined in 2005. I was one of the lead organizers for clerical. I was called in by the previous supervisor and threatened: If I didn’t stop organizing the clericals, I could lose my job.
It’s also because I’m a minority. In the past, there was an email circulated to my coworkers by a supervisor that called me a ‘black bitch’ and a ‘porch monkey.’
"In 2013, a supervisor sent an email a coworker found on the printer to HR: ‘How do I get rid of this black bitch? She’s always throwing this union up in our face.’ I took it to the CEO.
"They’ve had two sets of layoffs since I’ve been at the hospital. It’s never been handled like this. They worked with the union. I volunteered to go down on hours to save people’s jobs.
"At one time I felt like we were part of a family: patients, staff. I felt like we all worked together for the common good of everyone. Now it doesn’t feel like that.
"My message to CEO Jon Pryor is you’ve made a complete mess of this hospital. Workers are not happy. The morale is completely low. I would like to see employee engagement. That doesn’t just mean the professionals; it means all your people, your people on your front lines, the people who keep the hospital clean and safe, the people who cook the food. You want us to be part of the team, include us. We matter, too.”