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Between us, we have 29 years of experience working at Hennepin Healthcare. We're deeply honored to work alongside some of the most compassionate, hardworking and dedicated healthcare workers in the country. We're also concerned about the direction of the organization under the unaccountable Hennepin Healthcare System Board that currently governs Hennepin Healthcare.

Unlike HHS administrators, who come and go, we've lived through the changes in question in our health care system. Despite recent claims by Dr. Thomas Klemond, president of the medical staff for HHS, in a recent commentary ("Patients before politics," April 8) there is abundant evidence of poor working conditions, deteriorating benefits, excessive executive salaries and a lack of transparency in our health care system.

We know this because we see it for ourselves. We, along with our colleagues, advocate for a transition from a privatized management model to one that is democratic, accountable and integrated with Hennepin County, ensuring the hospital serves everyone's interests.

Since the HHS Board took control in 2007, CEO pay increased by more than 142%. Meanwhile, that same board sunsetted employee retirement health insurance, shifted vacation and sick time into PTO at a loss for workers, eliminated retention pay, cut 40% from performance raises, undermined union dental insurance, and imposed huge increases to health insurance premiums and deductions. Even as hospital administrators cry poverty at the bargaining table and refuse meaningful wage increases to the workers who deliver services, behind closed doors the CEO received a whopping 15% raise, to $452 per hour.

This is a slap in the face to the thousands of us front-line staff members who saw an inflationary wage cut of nearly one-tenth of our income. Fearmongering administrators feign that dissolution of the HHS board would be disastrous. But that disaster has already struck Hennepin Healthcare workers and patients, that is why we are fighting for transparency and accountability.

AFSCME represents over 2,500 workers at HHS, a large number of whom are workers of color and among the lowest-paid staff in the system. Isolating Hennepin Healthcare from Hennepin County and hand-selecting board members who are superficially "accountable" to workers or the public puts the cost-cutting burden on the back of front-line staff and patients, which has pushed the system to the brink of collapse.

Beyond the financial data Klemond seemingly overlooked, there is a real workplace violence crisis. In 2022, per HHS statistics, there were 455 assault injuries. In inpatient psychiatry alone, there were 89 injurious assaults. Actual incidents of workplace violence are vastly underreported, which HHS administrators acknowledge.

Dr. Klemond should be aware of these facts, and yet disingenuously suggests to the public that there is "little data" to support the assertion that Hennepin Healthcare working conditions are poor. Recently, management provided only a partial workplace violence data set to AFSCME Local 2474, which represents job classes at the center of the workplace violence crisis, such as Protection Officers and Mental Health Workers.

To make informed decisions, the public needs to be told the truth. And it is dangerous to withhold vital information from front-line staff regarding workplace conditions. It also demonstrates a wider problem, which is lack of administrative transparency and disdain for the firsthand experience of the workers who provide patient care daily.

Under HHS Board leadership, inpatient psychiatry was neglected for years, with a work environment that was severely understaffed, with inadequate training, and with a lack of management support for therapeutic interventions. Out of necessity, we came to depend on dangerous procedures such as restraint and seclusion. These procedures disproportionately affect patients of color and were utilized at comparatively high rates. Again, there is data at Klemond's fingertips that he simply prefers to ignore, and our experiences are met with defensiveness and invalidation rather than fierce curiosity, real collaboration and problem-solving.

Ultimately, Hennepin Healthcare and all Minnesotans would benefit from the governance of elected officials rather than an insular board, aligning more closely with transparency and accountability. We, workers and proud union members, are committed to advocating for a responsible and responsive health care institution that prioritizes community and staff well-being.

Nathan Paulsen is a mental health worker. Kim McNeil is a certified medical assistant. The Star Tribune Editorial Board also wrote about this issue on Sunday in "Don't blow up HCMC's governance."