San Francisco supervisors and city workers came together today to denounce a proposal to privatize the security forces at the city’s hospitals, calling the plan dangerous and intellectually dishonest.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said the Department of Public Health’s Proposition J, which would save an estimated $4 million annually by replacing the hospital’s sheriff’s deputies with private security officers, would jeopardize the safety of patients, their families and hospital staff.
This morning he joined Supervisor John Avalos and members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents many of the hospital workers affected by the decision, at a news conference to ask the Board of Supervisors to reject the proposal when it goes before the budget and finance committee on Thursday.
The Department of Public Health said the new contract would “seek to maintain the same level of safety currently provided by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department,” but Mirkarimi and other speakers questioned how that would be possible.
“Our utmost concern is that staff and patients–whether they’re 5150s or people detained by police–be safe,” he said. “The best-trained personnel are deputies.”
The Department of Public Health could not be reached for comment.
Bob Ivory, a nurse at the trauma center at San Francisco General Hospital, said he has encountered countless dangerous incidents in his 30 years there.
Any time there is a shooting in the city, the victims, perpetrators, and their friends and family all come to San Francisco General, he said.
Fights between families have broken out, and rival gang members have brandished guns in the Intensive Care Unit.
Patients who are high on drugs or having psychotic episodes have lashed out at staff and attacked other patients, Ivory said. It takes a trained officer to de-escalate the situation and protect outside parties without hurting the patient, Ivory said.
“I’ve had patients take a fire extinguisher off the wall and threaten to bash in the heads of elderly patients,” he said. “This is something that needs to be responded to now, not be called in by someone trained to observe and report.”
It’s also important for security members to be on board with the Department of Public Health’s mission, which is protecting the safety of the public’s health, said RV Finwall, a sworn institutional police officer.
The officers have to distinguish between violent patients who are ill and violent patients who are criminals, and treat them accordingly, Finwall said.
Ivory nodded. “When people need to be restrained, I want a professional. I want
him,” he said, pointing to Finwall.
Finwall said the officers had crunched the numbers and were ready to present other money-saving proposals to the Board of Supervisors. Members of SEIU Local 1021 also said they were willing to work with the health department to save money.
Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting attended today’s news conference and said he appreciated the need to balance the city’s budget, but that compromising the safety of city workers was not the way to do it.
“If that’s what we have to discuss, it’s sad day in San Francisco,” he said.
Janna Brancolini, Bay City News