HealthPartners workers picket, warn clinic closings will hurt local communities at worst possible time

Workers picket outside HealthPartners Riverside Clinic in Minneapolis.

By moving forward with plans to close nine facilities in Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin, HealthPartners is turning its back on local communities at the worst possible time, clinic workers say.

Members of two unions impacted by the closings, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and OPEIU Local 12, held informational picketing in Minneapolis tonight outside HealthPartners Riverside Clinic, which suspended operations April 25 and will not reopen, the provider has since announced.

Riverside serves some of Minnesota’s most racially diverse neighborhoods, including areas of concentrated poverty. The clinic’s closing caught many patients dangerously off-guard, said Holly DeSouza, a registered nurse who coordinates care for chronic and high-risk patients.

“I get regular calls from our patients who have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and they can’t get into this clinic,” DeSouza, a member of SEIU, said. “They said they were outside, they knocked on the door and no one came. And they can’t get out to the suburbs where their providers were displaced. They don’t have the transportation.”

Minnesota’s troubling racial disparities have drawn worldwide attention this summer, and health care is among the areas where those disparities are most stark. According to the Department of Health’s 2017 Statewide Health Assessment, “race and ethnicity are powerful indicators of the opportunity people have to be healthy” in Minnesota.

Rep. Mohamud Noor, a DFLer whose district includes the Riverside Clinic, told workers he worries its closing will only heighten barriers people of color and indigenous people face in getting the care they need.

“To walk away from this clinic is what I see as the structural racism that exists in our society,” Noor said, adding he and his family consider Riverside their primary-care clinic. “Closing this clinic is a shame to HealthPartners.”

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Riverside is just one of eight clinics slated to close, along with the Regions Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program in St. Paul. Other communities impacted by the closings include St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, Cottage Grove, and Mahtomedi.

Since announcing the cuts, HealthPartners has laid off 90 SEIU members and about 30 members of OPEIU Local 12, as well as non-union employees. More layoffs could be coming, union leaders said.

Linnea Forsline, an SEIU member and physician assistant at Riverside, speaks on the picket line. “We don’t bail on our patients,” she said.

For workers, the layoffs are particularly difficult to stomach after a difficult round of contract negotiations this winter – and a year after the “nonprofit health care organization” bumped CEO Andrea Walsh’s compensation past the $2 million mark.

In a petition circulating online, union members are demanding Walsh and HealthPartners “stop clinic closures and protect health care workers – and protect the health care of the communities those workers serve.”

“We hear talk about the future of video visits, but we know that people want to be with a real person and talk to their health care providers,” Local 12 member Kelsie Anderson said. “We also know that many people may not have proper technology for that.”

Rushing forward with virtual care and closing clinics like Riverside are part of a “destructive pattern” of moves, physician assistant and SEIU member Linnea Forsline said, that impact patients dealing with chronic illnesses and barriers to care the most.

“I’m here because we need this clinic,” Forsline told fellow picketers. “We don’t bail on our patients, not during a pandemic, not after the murder of George Floyd, not ever.

“We need this clinic.”

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