Union, hospitals clash over community benefits definition

California's hospitals are coming under greater pressure to clarify and quantify their community benefits from an unlikely source: Labor unions.

Hospital nurses who are also members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) labor union picketed the state Capitol last week, demanding change and pushing for passage of a bill that would provide more rigid guidelines for the reporting of community benefits, the Sacramento Bee reported.

"These corporations are profiting so much," Diane McClure, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente's South Sacramento Medical Center, told the Bee. "They need to put more back into communities. They have the money and get huge tax breaks."

The CNA said that the state's hospitals provide less than $2 billion a year combined in community benefits. The California Hospital Association, the state's primary hospital lobby, claims that $5 billion is a more accurate number, according to the Bee.

In other parts of the country, powerhouse provider Cleveland Clinic claims to spend more than $650 million a year on community benefits, while providing more than $12 billion in annual economic impact, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Nationwide, inpatient facilities spend a little more than 11 percent of their revenue on community benefits, according to past studies from the American Hospital Association. Organizations use about 85 percent of those benefits to pay for patient care, but some have found more creative uses, such as medical-legal partnerships, in recent years.

The union supports a bill currently pending in the legislature, Senate Bill 346, which would have provided guidelines on how to define community benefits and would require that hospitals seek outside input in order to formulate them.

However, that bill fell one vote short of clearing a subcommittee and may or may not be heard in the next legislative session. The CHA claims that the bill is designed to address a problem that does not exist, although other observers differ with that conclusion.

To learn more:
- read the Sacramento Bee article 
- check out the Cleveland Plain Dealer article
- here's the bill