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CNA Bias Claims Against Sutter Health: Discrimination or Desperation?

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 30, 2010
The CNA made its case in the court of public opinion with written statements from former employees. Chris Hanks, a former director of Critical Care Services at CPMC, alleged that Diana Karner, the Sutter West Bay vice president of nursing told him several times, "you are not to hire any Filipinos."

CNA said CPMC hiring data supports the accusations. "A review by CNA of active employee lists provided by CPMC demonstrates that in early 2008 there was a major demographic shift among the nurses being hired at St Luke's. Before February 2008, 65% of St Luke's RNs were Filipino. After February 2008, only 10% of RNs hired were Filipino," CNA said.

Browner said the hospital's data tells a different story. "In 2007, 63% of our nurses at St. Luke's were Asian. Today that number is 66%," he said. "We do not have any way of identifying what percentage of our nurses are Filipino because we don't break down these categories by ethnicity or country of origin."

The CNA's discrimination claims are questionable, however, owing to issues that the union must have known about but failed to mention.

First, the United States reportedly has a seven-year backlog of work visa applications from foreign-trained healthcare professionals, including Filipino nurses. Assuming that CNA's hiring data from St. Luke's is accurate, it seems highly likely that any decrease in the number of Filipino nurses hired is owing more to this backlog, which is well beyond the control of any hospital, than to discrimination.

Second, a big critic of extending work visas for foreign-educated nurses—including Filipinos—is the American Nurses Association, the nation's largest professional trade association for RNs, and a one-time affiliate with CNA.

In fairness to ANA, their opposition is not based on discrimination. "We need to be dealing with our domestic healthcare workforce problem. We shouldn't be using immigration as a means to address the nursing shortage," Cheryl Peterson, ANA's director of nursing practice and policies, told HealthLeaders Media. "That being said, we do believe that nurses and other healthcare workers have the right to migrate and we benefit when they migrate and work here."

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