Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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David Mallon

David Mallon has advanced degrees in clinical social work and psychology. He has worked as a psychiatric social worker at Kaiser for over 12 years.

June 4th, 2011 3:38 PM

The Kaisers

What Kaiser Permanente and Pope Alexander IV Have In Common

Recently SHOWTIME started airing a new series called THE BORGIAS. Episode after episode of people in great costumes acting badly - I can't get enough of it!

I'm a Licensed Medical Social Worker at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, with a background in psychology. Maybe that's why I have a bit of a fixation on dreams, and why I was especially intrigued when one night I actually dreamed myself into the show. In Technicolor, no less!

I didn't actually play a role in the dream, but my bosses did. The Borgias is billed as a show about “the original crime family.” Maybe that's why it reminded my sleeping, unconscious mind of my bosses, The Kaisers.

You see, 2,500 Kaiser employees in Southern California who belong to the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) have been battling Kaiser for a fair contract for well over a year now. We've been through two one-day strikes, demanding better staffing and other measures to safeguard quality patient care. Kaiser has responded to our proposals with its own demands: that we accept cuts to our healthcare and retirement benefits. Criminal, indeed.

So in my dream, I watched as Lucrezia Borgia turned suddenly into Ben Chu, Kaiser's Southern California Regional President, with golden locks and sumptuous dresses. Mr. Chu could probably afford a lot of those dresses considering he pulled down about a million point six in greenbacks last year. Wow!



But the best was when the Jeremy Irons' character, the Borgia Pope, turned into George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente. By the time George made it on the scene as Pope Alexander IV, the Kaiser CEO was in modern dress. No white cassocks for him. He was dressed in a nice, silk suit, quite finely tailored. In fact, when I first saw him he was being fitted by four different tailors!

Yes, Pope George did well hauling in nearly $8 million in compensation from Kaiser in 2009. But that does not begin to tell the whole story. You see, the college of cardinals – George's executive crew - as well as Pope George managed to get other perks in addition to big fat salaries.

“Look at this, Cardinal Ben,” Pope George crowed as he unfurled a long scroll along the floor enumerating the many perks shared by the Pope and the college of cardinals. How similar this list looked to the actual perks enjoyed by actual Kaiser Permanente executives, such as:

·Personal Services: Kaiser pays for chauffeur services for its CEO. No filthy taxi cabs for Pope George!

·Huge, forgivable 'loans': Kaiser has extended loans to executives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each for relocation costs in 2009 and 2010, some of them “forgivable “after several years, including one for half a million dollars.

· First Class Travel: Kaiser senior executives and board members enjoy first class travel for all business-related trips. Kaiser even pays for its jet setters' companions to come along in the first class cabin!

·Health Clubs & Social Clubs: Kaiser's officers, directors, trustees and key employees enjoy company-paid initiation fees and membership dues for health and social clubs. No expenses spared for Kaiser's big shots!

George, satisfied that he has cemented the loyalty of Cardinal Ben and the others, heads for the door. “Come along Ben and get out of that ridiculous outfit!” Ben comes running but tripping on a petticoat crashes into the Pope. It's not a happy scene. I wake up.

Was it a dream or a nightmare?

“No.” “No!” I say to myself. “It is real. Way too real!”

As my waking consciousness readjusts my real-world focus I realize that I have to face this employer across the bargaining table where they are bent on impoverishing me and my colleagues and corrupting the quality of patient care.

Taking a deep sigh, I grab the remote. Life was a lot easier in the Renaissance. You only had to contend with murder, mayhem, and assorted human depravities. I look at my clothes laid out at the foot of the bed.

“Maybe I can catch a re-run episode of THE BORGIAS,” I think. “That seems easier than getting out of bed.”

For updates on our fight for a fair contract at Kaiser, visit

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