Sutter Hospitals Band Together and File Lawsuit Against Union for False and Defamatory Campaign that Misled and Upset Patients
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – April 28, 2005 – Many of the not-for-profit hospitals of Sutter Health today filed suit in Placer County against a New York City-based labor union for defaming Sutter Health hospitals in an inflammatory direct mail piece that incited phone calls from anxious patients.
The suit by the Sutter Health hospitals stems from what is believed to be a mass mailing by a labor union called Unite Here to households in communities throughout Northern California.
The mailer made false and unsubstantiated allegations about Sutter Health hospitals, suggesting that they use contaminated linens provided by Angelica Textile Services, a private laundry service. The mailer, which featured a photograph of a newborn infant, falsely suggested that the alleged use of contaminated linens threatens the health of newborns. Even though Angelica is used by dozens of Northern California hospitals, the mailer singled out Sutter-affiliated hospitals, warning recipients: "You may be bringing home more than your baby if you deliver at a Sutter birthing center."
The card carried a New Jersey bulk mail permit but no sender name or address. The only clue to the mailer's origin was a tiny statement noting: "Unite Here is engaged in a labor dispute with Angelica Textile Services." Unite Here does not have a labor dispute with Sutter Health or any of its affiliates, but has expressed support for the Service Employees International Union, Local 250, which has several open contracts with hospitals affiliated with Sutter.
"We received a number of phone calls from concerned mothers after they received this card in their mailbox," said Stuart Bostrom, M.D., an obstetrician and chief of staff at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, whose patients have received the mailer. "This was nothing more than a shameful attempt to scare patients and the public when they're most vulnerable. Expectant moms have enough to think about without being frightened by outrageous and false allegations from a labor union with a political agenda."
In the lawsuit, Unite Here is charged with maliciously making false accusations to exploit the vulnerability of its intended audience, and thereby besmirching the reputation of Sutter Health and its affiliated hospitals. Plaintiffs include the Sacramento Sierra Region of Sutter Health, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland, California Pacific Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Marin General Hospital, Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame, Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo, Memorial Hospital Los Banos, Sutter Amador Hospital, Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport and Memorial Medical Center in Modesto.
"Providing our patients high-quality care in a clean, safe environment is the top priority of every caregiver at our medical center," said Rebecca A. Heffner, RN, BSN, PHN, CIC, infection control coordinator at Memorial Medical Center. "We have strict quality assurance processes in place to ensure our linens meet those high standards, no matter who the vendor. To suggest something to the contrary is unconscionable."
Several Sutter hospitals said it was no coincidence that the union's campaign only targeted them. Since launching its campaign against Sutter Health, Unite Here has worked closely with SEIU, Local 250, which itself routinely uses misinformation in its longstanding and separate labor disputes with several Sutter-affiliated hospitals.
SEIU officials distributed materials containing similar misinformation about the laundry service at several Sutter Health hospitals. They also helped lead a rally in front of Sutter Health's Sacramento offices on April 6 that perpetuated the same misinformation. And SEIU's local president has been quoted in a recent newspaper article as being "very involved" in supporting Unite Here's outrageous campaign.
"It's shameful that a union that is supposed to represent our employees would support a campaign to scare away our patients by disparaging the quality of care provided by the very people they claim to represent," said Barbara DeBaun, RN, MSN, CIC, director of infection control and patient safety for California Pacific Medical Center. "No one knows more than our dedicated caregivers that providing high-quality care is our top priority. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the very employees that SEIU is supposed to represent."
Karen Garner, Sutter Health