Nurses OK Kaiser strike. The rank-and-file members of the California Nurses Association have authorized a strike against Kaiser Permanente that will probably start July 7. The strike could last one to three days and would affect 47 Kaiser hospitals and clinics in Northern California. Nurses in the San Francisco Bay Area voted 93% to authorize the strike; in Fresno they voted 98% in favor. The nurses hit Kaiser with a one-day strike April 16 that they claim cost the HMO $10 million. They have been working without a contract since Jan. 31. Kaiser is asking for significant wage concessions, which it says are needed to restore a competitive labor cost structure. The nurses allege Kaiser has endangered patient safety by reducing nurse staffing in its hospitals.
Workers protest at N.Y. hospital. About 350 healthcare workers represented by Local 1199 of the National Health and Human Service Employees Union demonstrated outside Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., last week. They contend the 275-bed hospital is reducing patient-care staff. The union threatens to strike on July 15 if management doesn't reach a contract agreement.
Lifespan, Boston hospital OK merger. The boards of Lifespan and New England Medical Center have given their final approval to a merger, following six months of negotiations. Under the deal, Boston-based New England Medical, a tertiary teaching hospital affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine, would merge into Providence, R.I.-based Lifespan, a regional healthcare delivery network seeking to expand beyond its Rhode Island base of four facilities including Rhode Island Hospital and Miriam Hospital. The approval clears the way for the next round of scrutiny by regulators in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Terms of the deal, including the purchase price, will not become public until the regulatory agencies issue their decisions. The Federal Trade Commission already has cleared the merger, according to Lifespan.
Insurer, system in Ark. managed-care deal. A large insurer and a hospital system have combined to widen availability of managed care in Arkansas. Arkansas Health Partners is a new joint venture created by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, St. Louis-based Sisters of Mercy Health System and Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Ark. The partners will share risk in the venture, participating equally in gains and losses. Physicians will have a major role in governance and local operations in the three regions of the state where the venture will offer care: northwest, south central and west central. By splitting the venture into local divisions, its sponsors hope it can allow local managers to make decisions to address the health needs of rural populations. Sisters of Mercy has three hospitals in the state. The venture will offer Arkansas FirstSource PPO, Health Advantage HMO, USAble Administrators for third-party administrator services, and USAble for managed workers' compensation and major medical coverage.
Kan. acts to thwart move by Blues. In a brief filed earlier this month in Sedgwick County (Kan.) District Court, the state of Kansas said Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas was a public benefit corporation just like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army before the plan's conversion into a mutual insurance company in 1992. Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall opposes the insurer's effort to have itself declared a not-for-profit medical and hospital service corporation in the years before 1992 rather than a public benefit corporation. The Blues sued the state in May to clarify its corporate status, claiming its policyholders have always acted much like shareholders in the company (May 12, p. 4). If the plan was a charitable organization prior to 1992, it might be required to create a not-for-profit foundation.
Coastal wins Navy deal. The U.S. Navy has awarded three contracts to Coastal Government Services, an affiliate of Durham, N.C.-based Coastal Physician Group, that Coastal said could total more than $41 million over five years. The contracts support Tricare, the military's managed-care program. Coastal will manage emergency departments and provide primary-care services at Navy facilities in Pensacola, Fla., Bethesda, Md., and Quantico, Va.