Union Calls on University of California-San Francisco Cardiology Department To End Program for Donors
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 on Wednesday called on the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center to end a "controversial program" that offers "special benefits" to people who donate at least $1,500 annually to the hospital's cardiology program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/12). The program, called the Cardiology Council, provides donors with a 24-hour cardiology hotline for medical advice and referrals; house calls; the ability to schedule nonemergency appointments with little advance time; appointments at less-crowded offices in the department headquarters; a semiannual newsletter; and invitations to luncheons with clinicians and researchers. The cardiology department is the only department at UCSF to offer such a program. About 210 people are members of the Cardiology Council (California Healthline, 2/10). The Oakland-based union, whose members include 2,400 employees at UCSF Medical Center, called the Cardiology Council's special treatment to donors "unethical and unfair to other UCSF patients." The union has sent letters to UCSF officials and others "decrying the practice" and asking for details on other similar programs in the UC system, according to the Chronicle.
AFSCME member Tim Thrush, a diagnostic technician at UCSF, said many employees have concerns about the program, adding, "The two-tiered environment this sort of elitism creates is not appropriate for a publicly funded institution." He said that although the Cardiology Council is the only formal program that provides special treatment to donors, providing such treatment for donors is a "common practice at UCSF that goes beyond cardiology," the Chronicle reports. UCSF CEO Mark Laret said that donations from Cardiology Council members help support indigent care at the hospital. He said that he had not seen the union's letters. Laret added that UCSF officials likely would discuss the Cardiology Council because of the recent media attention but said that currently he sees no need to institute changes. Cardiology department Chair Dr. William Grossman did not respond to an interview request Wednesday, according to the Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/12).
Although UCSF Medical Center "had its heart in the right place" when it created the Cardiology Council, "the effect has been to establish a two-tiered system of care that is inappropriate for a state-sponsored institution," a San Jose Mercury News editorial states. A "state-sponsored institution should not grant the rich special privileges" because "public entities need to ensure equal access," the editorial says. The editorial concludes that "gifts to the Medical Center should be just that, gifts, with no special favors expected in return" (San Jose Mercury News, 2/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.