Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chase Brexton CEO, Firings Assailed at Protest



Photo: Bob Ford
Ten days after the fifth manager at Chase Brexton Health Care was abruptly fired, a spirited protest and rally was held in front of the headquarters building on Charles and Chase Streets.  The crowd that numbered well over a hundred crammed that corner on a sun-baked late August 19 afternoon, waving signs and chanting slogans, such as “Patient Lives Matter.”
Prior to the rally, Chase Brexton had closed its doors to patients without advance notice.  “I was here to pick up medication and have lab work done, but when I showed up, the center was closed because of the protest,” said Dave Spellman.

The grievances leveled at Chase Brexton’s CEO Richard Larison and the organization’s management team centered on the firings of five long-standing professional managers because, according to the protesters, it was an attempt to intimidate other employees leading up to a union vote, which management opposes.  In addition, these individuals who were terminated had provided quality health care services to a multitude of patients, many of whom are low income transgender individuals who have no other access to health care.
The crowd consisted largely of Chase Brexton patients and clients, employees, representatives from the Service Employees International Union 1199 (SEIU), activists and supporters.  Speaker after speaker from various connections to the care provided at the 38-year-old institution—originally  founded as a health clinic for gay men—and perspectives on the situation were consistent in aiming their remarks at the removal of Larison, the rehiring of the five managers and deploring the potential poor quality of health care and services stemming from these terminations.

Organizer Kate Sumiko Bruce  Photo: Bob Ford

The speakers, which included such elected officials as State Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Mary Washington, were mostly clients or patients at Chase Brexton and told personal, often moving stories of how Chase Brexton’s providers gave them hope.

Some were particularly effective in firing up the crowd.  Monica Yorkman, a transgender activist, warned that the direction Chase Brexton’s management was taking would turn the institution into a “generic-ass hospital.”
Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton, started organizing the protest, and the SEIU and Baltimore Transgender Alliance contributed to the organizing. Kate’s spouse, Reece Bruce, a transgender man, is also a patient.  
 

“I organized the protest after discovering that my provider had been one of the employees fired for attempting to organize a union at Chase Brexton,” Kate, who emceed the rally, said. “I am hoping to get the attention of not only the community and media, but also of the board. I want those with power within Chase Brexton to know that the current CEO must be replaced, that those fired need to be rehired, and that bullying and union busting will not be tolerated in Baltimore. We patients love our providers and the staff at Chase Brexton and want to support them. They have been there for us so it's our turn to be there for them!”

Two of the fired five: Jill Crank (L.) and Catherine Fowler
Photo: Bob Ford
SEIU organizer Brian Owens agreed. “We’re bringing the community and patients together to bring pressure on the Board of Directors to stop their intimidation against the workers and rehire the fired workers.”
The previous day, Becky Frank, Chase Brexton’s Vice President of Development and Marketing, issued a statement “acknowledging the period of rapid change in order to ensure our long-term viability” and does not believe that “the SEIU is the right long-term solution for Chase Brexton.”  No mention was made of the five fired workers in the statement.  

Jill Crank, Assistant Medical Director and Nurse Practitioner, was one of the fired five and the provider for many in the crowd.  They  gave her as well as Catherine Fowler, another fired manager, a rousing ovation at the end of the rally.

“The act of firing five compassionate and dedicated employees singlehandedly destroyed the trust between Chase Brexton and the community it serves,” she said. “It sent a signal that employees are disposable and replaceable, as well as the relationships they built with their patients and community organizations.”
She added, “Dedication to the LGBT community and Chase Brexton’s mission means recognizing the talent and energy of the people who work on the ground level, and respecting their voices at the workplace negotiating table. After all, it is these individuals who have earned the trust of our patients, one by one.”

The Baltimore Transgender Alliance, led by executive director Ava Pipitone, summed up the sentiments of the protesters in a statement.

“On August 19th, the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and our allies are joining forces to rally in support of the Chase Brexton workers’ right to unionize. The rally’s purpose is twofold: both to lift the voices of Chase Brexton employees and the communities that Chase Brexton serves, and to stand united as transgender residents of Baltimore and demand the services we deserve.

“Chase Brexton is one of the only places where low-income transgender and non-binary people in Maryland can access care. However, for two years, CEO Richard Larison’s policies have undermined worker’s efforts. As we face systemic injustice based on intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, we need and deserve quality care.

“In response, Chase Brexton workers are unionizing. After Larison became aware of these efforts to organize, he and his administration laid off five employees. Some of these workers have decades of experience working with clients; they are integral to HIV care and essential to transgender care. Many people lost providers that they had been with for years, and that trust is not easily re-earned.

Photo: Bob Ford
“This is an attack on the workers of Chase Brexton, and that is an attack on our community. Firings and policy changes in care for marginalized communities replicates the very systems of oppression Chase Brexton was founded to address. This rally follows the Department of Justice’s damning report on the Baltimore Police Department’s systemic dehumanization and harassment of transgender persons, especially transgender women of color. We have to fight for what seems a given to non-marginalized communities. We are fighting and standing strong with those who support us.

“We demand that Larison be removed as CEO. We demand that the “fired five” are rehired. We demand that Chase Brexton workers are given their right to unionize. We demand that Chase Brexton’s policies prioritize the quality of care that we deserve.”

Throughout the rally, dozens of cars and trucks driving up Charles Street honked their horns in support of the protesters.  In addition, a letter signed by ten Maryland legislators denouncing the firings was delivered to Larison and his management team just prior to the rally.
A vote for those eligible employees to join the union will take place August 25.

The next day, Kate Sumiko Bruce told supporters on Facebook, “Yesterday was not the end. We're gonna keep fighting until the protest demands are met.”

UPDATE:

By a vote of 87 to 9 on Aug.25, employees of Chase Brexton Health Care voted to join the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union. 

An attempt to postpone the vote by Chase Brexton management was unsuccessful as the National Labor Relations Board did not act on a request to investigate charges by the health care nonprofit that management and supervisors along with the union had interfered with the election process.

I am overwhelmed, crying tears of joy,” said Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton and who helped organize the protest against Chase Brexton last Friday.
 
I look forward to positive changes for staff and patients and hope for rehiring of those fired.”
 

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