Press Release: Southland Nurses and Licensed Professionals call 10-day strike

 For Immediate ReleaseMonday, December 14, 2020

CONTACT: Terry Carter, (805) 312-0024

Behemoth for-profit national hospital corporation pushes Nurses & Licensed Healthcare Professionals to call a 10-day ULP strike at:
—Los Robles Regional Medical Center—
—Riverside Community Hospital—
—West Hills Hospital & Medical Center—

 Nurses plead for staffing & safety; parent company
digs in heels against their pandemic recommendations.

Pasadena, CA–Registered Nurses and Licensed Medical Professionals at three Hospital Corporation of America facilities across the Southland have called a 10-day unfair labor practice strike, following a strike authorization vote that won overwhelming support at each facility.

The Nurses plan to strike from December 24 through January 3. Union members gave the hospitals a 10-day advance notice this morning in order to allow the employers ample time to bring in temporary replacement staff. In press statements last week, the hospitals indicated that they are “confident” and have “beds and capacity available.” The Nurses and Licensed Medical Professionals are willing to continue negotiations during this 10-day advance notice period. Although they informed us early this morning that they were canceling pre-scheduled dates this week, HCA has now informed us that they will honor the previously scheduled dates. We will be engaging a federal mediator in the process.

Safety, staffing and workload issues impacting safety are the employees’ major concerns.  Management’s proposals in negotiations have not shown a clear path to making the workplace safe for staff and patients.

Staff at all three hospitals say that management was alarmingly unprepared for the pandemic. And while these HCA facilities are among the most profitable hospitals in the region, they were also among the least prepared for the pandemic. The hospitals also have high staff infection rates. Two staff members at Riverside Community Hospital have already died, and scores there have fallen ill, spreading the disease to co-workers and possibly otherwise-uninfected patients.

At the three hospitals, Nurses and other healthcare staff report:

  • Dangerous employer-manufactured staffing shortages throughout the hospitals (ongoing before the pandemic)
  • 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
  • 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

Meanwhile, HCA placed a full-page, Sunday edition, full color ad in the Los Angeles times and other large newspapers yesterday—squandering resources that Nurses and other healthcare staff say would be much better spent on safe hospital operations. In frustration, Nurses used social media to put out their own “edited” version of the ad here.

“Those of us on the front lines of this pandemic have witnessed not only the ravages of the disease, but also the chaos manufactured by the hospital’s unwillingness to listen to our recommendations,” said Erin McIntosh, a Rapid Response Nurse at Riverside Community and a Bargaining Team Member. “We decided going into our contract negotiations with HCA that our line in the sand is getting strong pandemic safety guarantees. Union Nurses like me have led on health and safety for decades—AIDS treatment, needle safety, aerosol transmissible disease standards, safe patient handling. This pandemic is no different. Sadly, we often had to fight hospital administrators then, too. But it’s a fight we’re willing to take on for our patients and our profession.”

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 three hospitals, Union members propose contract language to put into practice many of these safeguards outlined in the platform. HCA management has refused to engage in meaningful negotiations on important safety proposals designed to provide greater protection for patients and staff.

“Our members hearts are breaking every day for their patients and their families,” said the Union’s Executive Director Rosanna Mendez. “They’re risking their lives every day working in unsafe conditions. The Bargaining Team asks for very basic stuff here, like access to the proper equipment, enough staff on their floors, access to COVID testing and safe quarantine policies. There’s no excuse for this pushback from HCA.”

“These contract negotiations are just one tool we’re using,” said Marie Spaner, an RN at West Hills and a member of the Bargaining Team. “We saw how poorly prepared they were for a pandemic—worse than other area hospitals, even though they have way more money. We’re using our collective voice everywhere we can right now—our contracts, grievances, legislation, public actions—to prevent such a poor response to our next public health crisis.”

“We were dangerously understaffed years before the pandemic hit. Over a year ago, we finally got our hospital to agree to make improvements to the number of Nurses on our floors. Finally, things got a little better,” said Kerry Cavazos, a Nurse at Riverside Community, and Chapter President of the Union at the hospital. “Then management walked away from their safe staffing agreement, leading to over 900 Nurses sounding the alarm with our 10-day strike over the summer. All to save money. They had the staff. They simply took people off the schedule and had them sit at home. More recently, when we’ve needed more staff, they lowered the amount they were offering out-of-state nurses—while everyone else started offering sky high rates. It makes no sense. Of all hospitals, ours is the one that could afford it.”

“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 at Los Robles. “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).

Hospital staff often urge their employers to put patients over profits. But HCA wrote the playbook for making money off of cutting corners. In fact, they’re doing better than last year—in the middle of a pandemic when other hospitals are struggling. 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.
  • 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. They 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. During the same period, the cut supplies spending by
  • 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.
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