Big Health’s Big Threat: Workers Strike, Hospital Retaliates with Insurance Axe

In a world that constantly reminds us of the importance of empathy and patient-first approaches, PeaceHealth, a dominant healthcare system in the Pacific Northwest, seems to have missed the memo. Over 1,300 of their hardworking staff went on strike last week. Why? Abysmally low pay and a constant tug of war with understaffing. And how did PeaceHealth respond? By threatening to snatch away their health insurance. If this doesn’t scream, “We need change,” I don’t know what does.

PeaceHealth’s blatant threat wasn’t subtle. Following the workers’ announcement to strike, the hospital immediately warned that their health insurance plans, which were on the brink of expiration in November, would be axed if the strike persisted. The audacity! Many of these workers, from techies to janitors, were already neck-deep in financial quicksand, with some earning less than $20 an hour. Their attempt to demand better conditions was met with a financial death sentence.

But this isn’t just about numbers. It’s about human stories, like Cassie Cook’s, a CT scan tech and cancer patient who works at PeaceHealth. Every month, she’s shelling out $550 from her pocket, even with health insurance, for her treatments. If PeaceHealth had followed through on their threat, her medical bills would’ve shot up to $3,000 a month. Think about that. A worker trying to save lives would’ve struggled to save her own.

And if you’re wondering whether PeaceHealth is some struggling non-profit, think again. Their CEO pocketed a base salary of over $5 million for 2022, with the top brass not far behind. Yet, they claim to be generously offering a minimum of $17 an hour to caregivers, pointing out how it’s above the state’s minimum wage. A good start, but when you consider that a one-bedroom apartment in Washington demands earnings of $30.33 an hour for an average living, it’s a drop in the ocean.

The strike paints a broader picture of a healthcare industry that’s fraying at the seams. We’ve seen the biggest healthcare strike in U.S. history with Kaiser Permanente workers. Nurses in New York achieved historic wins earlier this year. And now, PeaceHealth workers have joined this ever-growing chorus, saying, “No more.”