Forum: Layoffs at Everett Clinic point to for-profit problem

Optum’s control over providers, hospitals, medicines and health insurance is staggering.

By Eileen de la Cruz / Herald Forum

The Herald recently reported that Optum, the parent company of The Everett Clinic, despite earning multi-billion dollar profits, recently laid off dozens of people from the clinic (“Former Everett Clinic employees speak out about mass layoffs,” The Herald, Sept. 8).

There were nurses, a social worker, couriers and even a woman who had worked for the clinic for 35 years. They were “escorted” from the clinic premises (as though they were dangerous) and given severance packages with conditions that have made them fearful of speaking out. This is not the physician-owned Everett Clinic that I joined in 1996, but instead the disturbing evolution of the corporate-owned, profit-hungry entity I retired from in 2021.

These women and men were laid off from a company that is already immensely profitable. Their lives, families and economic stability have been severely disrupted. And it was done in such a way that not only shamed them, but also created an atmosphere of fear. Many at the clinic are now afraid for their own livelihoods. But this ultimately is why Optum and other corporations lay people off in this way; not only to cut costs, but to display power and instill submission and fear in those who remain. This is cruel, and for a company supposedly dedicated to human health, inhumane.

United Health Group is a massive and massively profitable managed health care and health insurance company that owns Optum. Optum is now not only the largest employer of physicians in the U.S., but also a pharmacy benefit manager that controls the cost and availability of medicines to millions of people. This concentration of power and control over providers, hospitals, medicines and health insurance in this one company is staggering and potentially dangerous; because profit, not compassion for human beings, is a core value that drives it.

Our current for-profit corporate health care system leaves millions without insurance, bankrupts the sick, overcharges us for vital medications and treatments, and keeps many of us in poorer health than people in other countries. It doesn’t need to be this way.

As an internist for 25 years, I cared for so many people from so many walks of life. We are all more alike than we are different. All of us will become ill. When that happens, we deserve compassionate, conscientious and affordable care.

I support a Medicare for All plan (which for-profit corporate health care executives are vehemently against, as they are against Medicare being able to negotiate drug prices.) No one should be uninsured. No one should become bankrupt due to sickness or be unable to afford life saving medications or treatments because of inflated costs.

And no one who works hard and conscientiously should be shamefully and needlessly laid off by a company that is obscenely profitable already. Here in the richest country in the history of the world we can do so much better.

Let us stop putting profit at the center of our health care and center our dignity and worth as human beings instead.

Dr. Eileen de la Cruz was an internal medicine physician at The Everett Clinic from 1996 until her retirement in 2021. She lives in Lake Forest Park.

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