Saturday, December 15

Editorial: UCLA Health leaves residents shortchanged with abrupt stipend slash


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$1,200 is apparently chump change at UCLA.

But for the university’s medical residents, or physicians in training, who live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine announced in February that residents would receive a $5,000 after-tax stipend to help offset the cost of housing. In August, the day before paychecks were distributed, medical residents were sent an email that the “take-home” amount of the stipend might fall short of $5,000.

$1,200 short, that is.

Many medical residents were affected by the shortchange, per the account of a resident who said she and others she had spoken to only received $3,800.

But the true shame isn’t the missing fifth of the stipend. Rather, it’s how UCLA Health has treated its residents as this revelation unfolded. There might be valid reasons for why the stipends fell short, but the university still waited until the last possible day to warn them of the shortage.

To add insult to injury, UCLA Health’s website continues to advertise the $5,000 stipend to future residents, while current ones remain in the dark about their situation.

This is hardly the response to expect from a top-10 medical program. But UCLA Health administrators have failed to give residents a proactive warning or even a valid reason for why many have to furnish an extra grand to keep the lights on – in spite of the thousands many owe from medical school costs.

It says a lot about UCLA Health when its students are forced to accommodate for administrators’ and financiers’ lack of foresight.

But other UC medical centers don’t seem to have this problem. UC San Francisco provides its medical residents with a $12,100 stipend to offset housing costs in the infamously expensive Bay Area region. Administrators justify UCSF’s greater stipend as being due to the more expensive housing market, but Westwood is far from being half as expensive as San Francisco. In fact, estimates from Curbed.com the median for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco hovers around $3,400, while the estimate for Westwood renters sits around $2,650.

Even with a particularly low medical resident stipend, UCLA Health is missing payments and leaving students uninformed.

That’s not to discount the certainly financial reasons the university may have for not delivering on its promise. But UCLA Health operates on a multibillion-dollar budget. It’s a drop in the bucket for West Los Angeles’ thriving medical center to pay the less-than-1,500 medical residents the $1,200 they’re owed.

Paying residents the stipends they’re due is no longer optional for UCLA. No one should have to tell a medical school to value the livelihood of its residents who actively contribute to UCLA Health’s daily operations.

A responsible institution wouldn’t fleece its students for its own mistakes, but would incur the charges itself and make up the dues through its own administrative means. Or, at the very least, it would give its students and employees adequate time to prepare for payroll shortages.

What it wouldn’t do, though, is callously erase $1,200 from a paycheck and treat it like loose change.

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