Changing the Perspective of Health Care from the Inside-Out by Phil Gavcus, Phlebotomist/Clinical Laboratory Assistant, and RN

By 2012 I had been to my fair share of demonstrations; taken part in Occupy Los Angeles, learned a lot about Socialism, and was introduced to the Socialist Party USA (member since 2015). More recently, I’ve joined fellow Comrades in the ever growing Democratic Socialists of America. During this same period, I had begun my transition into my second career as an allied healthcare worker. Hence, my transition of becoming a leftist (or a card carrying socialist) parallels my transition of becoming an allied healthcare worker, giving me a unique observational perspective of an industry that’s been at the forefront of the question: “Universal Healthcare, or Privatization?” The Healthcare System of America is the shining example of capitalism in healthcare.  We know its bleak statistics on patients, but what about its effects on Healthcare worker.

With today’s toxic balance of frequently changing political scenery and an overload of information coming from the technological advancements we so cling to, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost in the issues. It leaves a person vulnerable to falling for capitalism’s trap of deceit with distractions; finger-pointing and turning against each other: our comrades, our coworkers, our neighbors; our peers. Many choose to ignore and survive day-by-day, expecting nothing will ever change. Others choose to become active with local organizations. One may have led you to reading this today. I was first introduced to the idea of Socialism in 2004 by Fox News. I was waiting for the arrival of the Weapons of Mass destruction that we were promised; the proof that the Iraq War was just. Fox News had begun accusing questioners of the war of having ideologies that “wreaked of Socialism;” so falling for that Red Herring; I was like, “What is Socialism?”

I have been an allied healthcare worker since 2010 when I began this journey into my second career after witnessing my mom’s decline of her own health (related to her age) and the many healthcare workers who assisted with her care.  Not just doctors: nurses and their staff, physical therapists, dietitians, radiology technicians, phlebotomists; and forgive me if I left any department workers out; there are so many. The healthcare industry doesn’t just provide care for the sick; it provides work: people’s livelihoods.  And when people are doing their job with a sense of purpose and personal gratification; they’re not only helping themselves, they’re helping the community they serve, and a notable, significant difference is made.

I love my job. I love caring for the sick. It is the reason I sought out a career in healthcare and it’s the reason that most, not all, healthcare workers do. Currently, I am a Hospital Phlebotomist and Clinical Laboratory Assistant at a large community hospital; a not-for-profit (unfortunately, non-union) organization. Next year I’ll go from being a part-time Hospital Phlebotomist and fulltime Student RN, to a full time Registered Nurse and pursue my BSN (Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Sciences).

Since I began my second career over eight years ago, I’ve worked for several Clinical Laboratories. One of them was one of the largest Labs in the country; one of those places your doctor sends you to have your blood drawn when lab tests are ordered. They were a $14 Billion Dollar Corporation where I worked fulltime, alongside of many hardworking phlebotomists; including one who lived out of her car. At the time; approximately 4 years ago, phlebotomists were paid $14 an hour. Currently, the CEO makes $11.6 Million a year; or approximately $5,576.92 per hour (assuming he works 40 hours a week).

Prior to working at the Fortune 500 Corporate lab, I worked for one of my area’s largest healthcare clinics serving the underserved (mostly immigrant, homeless, and working-class communities). This clinic relied heavily on donations and government subsidies. There, I often worked with people who worked two jobs; this is something found frequently amongst allied healthcare workers. They would have a full-time job at a clinic and a part-time job elsewhere, or a part-time job at a clinic and a full-time job elsewhere, in order to afford to live.

Something else you can find frequently within the healthcare worker community is a sense of blame and finger pointing in the workplace, which unfortunately results in a change in the healthcare worker’s original purpose; or intent.  Something often referred to as a “calling.”

What is a healthcare “calling?” Whether it was my experience at a Technical Trade College where I obtained my Medical Assistant and Phlebotomist License, or at the Community College I currently attend for my RN program; one thing that remained consistent was the answer to the question, “Why Healthcare?  …specifically, why patient care?” The answer almost always began with the student giving a personal account of their “calling” to healthcare: They had a sick family member for whom they cared for. Or they witnessed a loved one in a critical care environment, when it occurred to them; I can do that! I want to do that! I don’t just want a job. I want to make a difference!

Unfortunately, if you flash-forward to today and asked some of those same students in their current positions, “why healthcare?” you wouldn’t hear about their purpose or calling.  You’d hear about the money and their frustration with not making enough or needing another job to supplement their income; after all there’s always healthcare jobs, they may not pay enough, so just get two. What’s worse and more damaging is that you would hear about the stress of their job. If you dug deeper, you’d probably hear about their frustration with fellow employees not “picking-up enough of the slack”; that sense of blame and finger-pointing.

I lived this example while working for a publicly-traded, corporate Clinical Lab. There, they would asked us to document the patients’ wait-times. This company sold its laboratory services to their prospective doctor clientele by promising the doctors their patients would never wait more than 15 minutes to complete their visit to one of their offices; it was their mantra and doctors bought it. The patient would sign-in and we would document when that patient left.  After over 2 ½ years working for them, in 4 different locations, I personally witnessed patients waiting upwards of 2 ½ hours to have their blood drawn. And the frustration, the finger pointing, and blame that fellow phlebotomists would put on each other; when in-fact, we were simply understaffed and it was impossible to meet those wait-time standards.

At the end of the day we would do the “Patient Wait-Time Report.” I would standby and watch my fellow coworkers lie and document nobody ever waited over 15 minutes. According to the reports; many waited ZERO minutes. Why did people say this, even if it wasn’t true? Because if a phlebotomist put that a patient waited anything over 15 minutes on that report, that phlebotomist and every person working at that location would hear about it from management in the form of a location performance improvement report (which would later be used to determine potential raises, or lack thereof).  So essentially this Billion Dollar corporation was asking its employees to lie on the wait-time reports. Later, I found out location managers were compensated through a bonus-system based on wait-time reports. Thus, incentivized lying.

So why is this significant to the discussion of Healthcare alternatives? Because it’s a direct result of a healthcare system that is purely reliant upon the dictation of profiteers; specifically capitalism in healthcare. Profiteers were making upwards of 392 times more per-hour than the workers that did the actual work and cared for the patients; some of which needed two jobs to get by, and some of which didn’t “get by,” as they lived in their cars.

How is this system good? How can it be good, when healthcare workers, with patient’s lives in their hands, are asked to take on this type of pressure and deal with these unrealistic wait time requirements? If healthcare wait times sound familiar to you, it maybe because it’s the reason for the scandal of The Department of Veteran’s Affairs; do we really “Support Our Troops”?

It’s this type of pressure that’s applied to healthcare workers that makes for an undesirable patient experience (as seen at the VA and large corporate labs). It’s this type of pressure that’s applied to healthcare workers that can often result in a hostile work environment. And a sense of blame, which evolves to a change in the healthcare-worker’s original purpose; or intent; that “Calling” that we all had.

I know because I’ve seen it extend its ugly hand from the Multi-Billion Dollar, S&P 500, Forbes poster-child corporation; to the free community clinical settings, to so called “not-for-profit” hospitals.

As healthcare workers, we not only have a commitment to keep to our patients, we have a commitment to keep to each other. We need to remind each other of our original intent; our calling to patient-care.

We need to redirect the fingers pointed at each other and point them at the now, obviously, failing system of capitalism. We need direction and reinforcement from our comrades and communities that an alternative exists. And we need to send a crystal-clear message to the profiteers of healthcare that their days are numbered.

Healthcare workers have the unique opportunity to demand a change in the system from the inside-out. By speaking and working with each other in solidarity; by putting the patient first; not the wait time report; and by demanding extra staff; not extra hours or an additional job.

By reminding one another  of our original purpose: our intent. I engage my coworkers in this conversation as frequently as possible. I invite them to healthcare-for-all events and demonstrations; for this is where the real change begins! I encourage them to think outside the social-norm; reminding them of the margin; THE DISTANCE that the profiteers keep from us; 392 dollars to each of our 1.

I invite and encourage all readers of this article to reach out to any and all healthcare workers that you know: the medical assistant that takes your blood pressure in your doctor’s office, the phlebotomist at the Lab’s office; YOUR DOCTOR / NURSE PRACTITIONER / PHYSICIAN’S ASSISTANT, your nurse.  Engage them in the conversation: Dare to insist to them that Healthcare is a human-right. Challenge them to consider Healthcare-For-All as a public-health issue; as a preventative measure for all. Educate them on the margins kept between profiteers and healthcare workers; use it as evidence that the money is there! It’s just not going to the right places. Universal healthcare is a realistic and economically sound alternative. Remind them that we already have Universal Healthcare; it’s called MediCare. Let us not restrict it to persons over 67 years old. Medicare for ALL! We need to put an end to profiteering in healthcare and it needs to start by making MediCare available to everyone, now!

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