GLENDALE—More than 80 health care workers, patients, and community members turned out this past Saturday for a special community-wide forum shedding light on LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s proposal to privatize the Glendale Health Center. The Armenian Youth Federation joined together with SEIU Local 721 to bring the issue directly before the community and into the public’s awareness.
“With so many of the patients at the clinic being medically-underserved Armenians, we could not help but get involved when we learned about what was happening,” said Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the AYF and emcee for the event. “As an organization dedicated to social justice, we found it necessary to bring this issue out from under the dark and inform our community about the threats posed by privatization .”
AYF Executive Director Serouj Aprahamian discusses dangers of privatizing health care.
The Glendale Health Center (GHC) is one of LA County’s most successful primary care clinics, with over 3,500 patients and 11,000 patient visits each year—the vast majority of whom are uninsured Armenian and Spanish-speaking elderly. In October of 2008, Supervisor Antonovich called for studying the feasibility of handing GHC over to a private company. The details of the proposal have yet to be released to the public.
Bob Schoonover, President of SEIU Local 721—the union representing many of the health care workers at GHC—spoke at the forum about the shrouded nature of the privatization plan. “If I was him [Antonovich], and going to consider this, I would have a forum to let constituents weigh in on it,” he said. “Till today the results of the report have not been made public.”
Schoonover added that he personally relayed an invitation to the Supervisor to attend the forum but got back no response.
Another speaker at the forum was Rosie Martinez, a public health nurse with over 27 years of experience serving in LA County. She spoke about how access to health care has been diminishing in Glendale throughout recent years and pointed out that privatizing GHC will lead to an influx of patients on the surrounding clinics, causing even greater strain to health care in the area.
Marina Manukian, a nurse at GHC, also took to the podium, providing a health care worker’s perspective on the proposed privatization. “Our patients have confidence and trust in our staff,” she explained. “Privatizing the clinic will cut access to quality services for so many who rely on it.”
Also in attendance was Nina Martin, a patient at GHC who described her experience there as caring and attentive in comparison with privately run facilities. “With private doctors you wait and wait for hours just to be seen,” she said. “They overbook because there is a profit motive. GHC doesn’t work like that. You go, see your doctor and they give you the help you need.”
Other speakers at the event included John Tanner, Executive Director of SEIU Local 721, Richard Zaldivar, President and Founder of Wall Las Memorias, and Nairi Nahapetian, candidate for California’s 43rd Assembly District seat. A brief video titled “Misguided Priorities: The Case for Glendale Health Center,” was also shown. In addition, attendees were broken up into groups where they discussed their health care experiences and drafted letters to Antonovich calling for him to drop the privatization plan.
Commitment cards were also passed out to the audience, encouraging participants to get involved in the campaign to save the Glendale Health Center. Many of the participants at the forum committed themselves to staying vigilant and taking action on this important issue affecting their community.
The first of such actions came just days after the forum, on February 23, when members of SEIU, the AYF and local constituents visited Supervisor Antonovich’s office in Pasadena. They presented the letters drafted at the forum to his staff and relayed their concerns to the Supervisor’s Health Deputy, Phillip Chen.
“The fact of the matter is that it is up to us to be aware of what is going on in our community and protect access to basic rights like health care,” said Aprahamian. “If they do not reach out and include the people in the process, the onus is on the people to be involved and make their voice heard.”