BREAKING UPDATE to the press release below:
Nurses at Los Robles, West Hills and Riverside Community hospitals will hold a strike authorization vote next week. If members vote “yes,” this would authorize the Bargaining Team to call a strike if they deem it necessary. A “yes” vote does not necessarily mean there will be a strike. This would affect roughly 1200 RNs at Riverside, more than 700 RNs and an additional 100+ licensed professionals at Los Robles, and more than 400 RNs at West Hills. If Nurses strike, the hospital is given ample time to hire temporary replacement staff. (Interestingly, this employer—Hospital Corporation of America—owns its own emergency staffing company.)
Hospital digs in heels against staff proposals
designed to fill pandemic safety guidelines vacuum.
For Immediate Release:
Monday, November 30, 2020
Terry Carter, (805) 312-0024
Hal Weiss, (213) 247-4585
Thousand Oaks, CA–Registered Nurses and Licensed Medical Professionals at Los Robles Regional Medical Center gathered in front of the hospital today to hold a socially distanced informational picket to sound the alarm on pandemic safety lapses inside the hospital.
Nurses and other healthcare staff report:
- Continued aggressive rationing of PPE; used, dirty PPE
- Dangerous co-mingling of patients and staff; uninfected patients believed to have contracted COVID in the hospital
- Insufficient testing of both patients and staff
- Reliance on an often inaccurate, inexpensive COVID-19 test instead of the recommended standard
- Staff is falling ill
- Nurse-to-patient ratio regulations repeatedly violated
- COVID-19 patients can go hours without seeing a nurse
- Nurses assigned to floors where they don’t have the necessary training or lack support
- Not enough housekeepers, leading to poor sanitation
- Not enough nurse assistants, unit secretaries, charge nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, transporters, occupational therapist, monitor techs
- Staff can go entire shifts without a break
- Dangerous “clean area” designations
- And more
In September, Nurses introduced their Pandemic Safety Platform, vowing to use their collective voice to push for improved safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic—and noting that they felt betrayed by their hospitals as well as public health agencies. In their contract negotiations with the hospital, Union members propose contract language to put into practice many of these needed safeguards outlined in the platform. Los Robles management has refused to engage in meaningful negotiations on important safety proposals designed to provide greater protection for patients and staff.
Instead of taking extra precautions during this pandemic, Los Robles continues to cut dangerous corners and take risks with patient and staff lives.
“We’re here today because hospital administrators aren’t listening to those of us on the front lines of this pandemic,” said SEIU Local 121RN President Dr. Nina Wells, DNP, MSN-NE, RN, PHN. “Union Nurses have been at the forefront of health and safety for the past half century, leading the way on AIDS treatment, needle safety, aerosol transmissible disease standards, safe patient handling—you name it, we led the way. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Our hospitals need to listen to us.”
“Nothing is worse for a Nurse than feeling like a patient didn’t have to die. Recently, we were left feeling that about two different patients, simply because there isn’t enough staff on duty to safely care for our patients,” said Diana Banks, RN. “Just in the last six weeks, we’ve lost twelve Nurses in our Telemetry unit. They left because it’s gotten so dangerous. So far, management has not replaced any of them.”
“I work with postpartum mothers and babies. Sadly, at such an important time in a family’s life, the hospital started cutting shifts for our nursery staff and lactation consultants, severely impacting our ability to support breastfeeding mothers on their journey,” said Colleen Ford, RN. “We spoke up and that’s been remedied for now, but I worry what will happen if we are again seeing a lot of COVID cases, or if too many of us start coming down with COVID. Will the hospital start cutting corners again? Our units are staffed at the bare legal minimum, with no aides, no unit secretary. We’ve had too many close calls. This is dangerous for our patients. We’ve had patients with emergencies like hemorrhages and blood pressure in dangerous ranges and not enough staff to assist. Often, other patients may not get the attention they deserve. No mother should have to experience this.”
“Our Telemetry unit has the most codes of any department outside of the ICU. The Charge Nurse is a key participant in these codes. At the same time, he or she has to oversee an average of 108 tele monitors throughout the hospital,” said Jessica Anderson, RN. “They’ve expanded the unit, but haven’t added an additional Charge Nurse. And because they often don’t provide a Resource Nurse, we must also try to give nine nurses and two monitor techs three breaks each. We are set up for failure from the beginning of our shift. It’s terribly unsafe.”
“The biggest issue for me right now is the lack of testing for staff. We’re likely giving it to each other. We could be spreading it to our patients and the community. But the hospital won’t test us, even if we’ve been exposed,” said Kami Miller, RN. “Recently, two support staff tested positive and a third who’d been working alongside them was also quarantined. I told management that I was within six feet of one of the positive employees who wasn’t wearing a mask at the time, and yet the hospital didn’t test me. There was another recent exposure in Labor and Delivery, but none of the colleagues who’d worked with that employee were tested. My son’s teachers are tested every week. It just doesn’t make sense that we don’t have a vigorous testing program here.”
“This is a scary time to be on staff at this hospital. They were completely unprepared to protect staff. I’ve worked here for 6½ years and I’ve never been fit tested for an N95. Every other hospital I’ve worked at fit tested us every year, just like getting a TB test,” said Julia Geran, Occupational Therapist. “And they never test us for COVID—even if we’ve been exposed. I have friends in the entertainment industry who automatically get tested twice a week, but we don’t get tested, even if we ask.”
Although a dangerous lack of PPE has been a problem at all hospitals where 121RN represents healthcare professionals, HCA hospitals like Los Robles were particularly unprepared for the pandemic, even though the Union asked them for their staffing, health and safety, infection control and preparedness plans regarding the disease on February 6—well before COVID-19 evolved into a pandemic. In a union-wide member survey, it was the wealthy HCA hospitals that had among the lowest marks for PPE (survey results here).
In the corporation’s 2nd quarter of this year ending June 30—their first financial report affected by the pandemic—they experienced a 38% increase in year-over-year profits. Again in the most recent quarter ending September 30, they reported a 9% increase over the same period last year. On top of that, the hospital chain was so profitable last year that they took $2 billion to buy back their own stock and pay shareholder dividends.
Nurses and licensed healthcare professionals will continue to use their contract negotiations with the hospital to focus on staffing, health, and safety, including hospital preparedness during states of emergency.
SEIU Local 121RN represents registered nurses and other healthcare professionals in California. This member-led organization is committed to supporting optimum working conditions that allow nurses to provide quality patient care and safety.
— FACT SHEET —
Nurses report unsafe staffing levels:
- Fewer RNs are expected to take care of more patients, even with an increased risk of COVID-19 infection during this pandemic due to insufficient PPE, recycling of single-use PPE, lack of support staff, and inadequate safety measures.
- Legally-mandated rest breaks and meal periods continue to be treated as optional. Administrators continue their failure to provide break and lunch relief to exhausted nurses wearing masks, shields and other PPE for 12+ hours. The hospital would rather have Nurses pursue penalties than provide them with time to get water and nourishment.
As if Nurses didn’t have enough challenges with the short-staffing issues, the hospital refuses to take extra precautions during this pandemic, instead cutting corners and taking risks with their lives and the lives of their patients:
- Many Nurses are afraid that they have or will spread the disease to otherwise uninfected patients.
- The hospital relies on a test known to give negative results for asymptomatic people, increasing the risk of unnecessary exposure to patients and staff.
- SEIU medical staff are dying. Scores of RNs have fallen ill with COVID-19; two SEIU Local 121RN members have died and many more from our sister Unions. And while we believe this is likely an undercount, venturacountyrecovers.org reports 823 healthcare workers have fallen ill in Ventura County.
- There was and continues to be poor adherence to the OSHA mandated directive to ensure all staff are notified of all possible COVID-19 exposure.
- There’s a dangerous lack of personal protective equipment, which staff need to safely care for patients. Although it’s been a problem at other hospitals, HCA hospitals were particularly unprepared for the shortage and didn’t handle it well. In a Union-wide 121RN member survey, it was the wealthy HCA hospitals that had some of the lowest marks for available PPE (survey results here).
- The hospital continues to aggressively ration items for “future needs.” Nurses say that the hospital is conserving the wrong resources—save staff, not masks.
- Nurses know that there’s no such thing as a unit that can be considered “clean” of the disease.
At the same time, Los Robles Nurses work for the largest, wealthiest for-profit healthcare corporation in the nation:
- HCA is in an amazingly good financial position. The had so much in profits last year that they took $2 billion of their profits to buy back their own stock and pay shareholder dividends. They had planned to do an additional $2.8 billion buyback of their own stock—in other words, they started the pandemic with nearly $3 billion in play money to get them through these months without a scratch.
- In the corporation’s 2nd quarter of this year ending June 30—their first financial report affected by the pandemic—they experienced a 38% increase in year-over-year profits.
- In the most recent quarter ending September 30, they reported a 9% increase over the same period last year.
- Here’s another way to look at this corporation:
- Between 2015 and last year, HCA’s annual income went from $39.7 Billion to $51.3 Billion—so in 5 years they increased their annual income by 29%.
- At the same time, though, they went from $2.1 billion in profits in 2015 to $3.5 Billion in 2019. That was an increase of 65% in annual profits.
- So how did they do that? How did 29% more in income turn into 65% more in pure gravy profits? By cutting corners, that’s how. By understaffing. By refusing to provide break relief. By not having enough PPE on hand.
- While the coronavirus pandemic is devastating many of the smaller hospitals across the country, this is just a very survivable quick station stop on the HCA gravy train that keeps churning out money for its CEO and shareholders.