Monique Hernandez is used to being shortstaffed.
As a registered nurse at Riverside Community Hospital, she’s often saddled with more patients than she can safely handle. The nurse-to-patient ratio in her telemetry unit is supposed to be 1-4 at the maximum, yet some days she handles as many as five.
“When you come into work and see that … you’re already feeling defeated,” the 42-year-old Beaumont resident said. “You know there is no way possible you can spread yourself that thin.”
Hernandez and scores of other nurses and healthcare workers plan to rally at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center on Thursday, Jan. 12 to protest understaffing at the more than 150 hospitals HCA Healthcare owns throughout the U.S.
Healthcare employees from HCA hospitals in California, Florida, Texas, Nevada and Kansas will participate in the call to action for safer staffing, better working conditions and improved patient care at the nation’s largest hospital system.
HCA’s four Southern California facilities include the West Hills and Riverside hospitals, as well as Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and Thousand Oaks Surgical Hospital.
The labor contracts at the Southern California hospitals, where workers are represented by SEIU 121 RN, will expire Sept. 15, 2023.
Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and grappling with this winter’s record-setting flu and RSV waves, the workers say they’ve reached their breaking point.
Jody Domineck, a registered nurse in the pediatrics unit at HCA’s Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, expressed his frustration last year.
“There is no more demoralizing feeling than when you run yourself ragged to do as much as you can for your patients, but 12 hours later leave your shift feeling like you didn’t do enough because you’re so short staffed,” Domineck said in a statement.
West Hills responds
In a statement issued Monday, West Hills said it’s gearing up for labor negotiations and watching out for employees.
“We value all members of our care teams, and we provide a safe environment for our patients and we staff our care teams appropriately and in compliance with state regulations,” the hospital said. “Thursday’s activity is an expected tactic as we are set to begin our regular cycle of bargaining with the labor union in the next few weeks.”
A 2022 SEIU survey of nurses and other healthcare workers at HCA hospitals found that nearly 80% reported being understaffed to the point where patient care was being compromised.
Staffing at HCA hospitals was found to be about 30% lower than the national average, the report said, and 76% of respondents said their facility’s leadership “does not take adequate action to address the needs of frontline nurses or healthcare workers.”
A widespread concern
Understaffing has become a widespread concern at hospitals throughout Southern California.
Last month, nurses at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank picketed the hospital, claiming they are shortstaffed and experiencing incidents of workplace violence due to lapses in security.
Lax security, coupled with the hospital’s failure to retain staff, has led to employee burnout, they said, which has created “an unsustainable situation for the safety of nurses and patients alike.”
Healthcare workers at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital launched a five-day strike on Dec. 12, claiming they’re underpaid and understaffed to the point where patient care is being compromised.
“We’re struggling to keep up, and people are leaving because they just can’t afford to work here,” said Eric Melo, an emergency room technician at Cedars. “Every day, I’m running around doing the jobs of three people.”
And earlier last month, healthcare workers at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center picketed the facility, claiming they are also understaffed and are paid far less than employees doing the same work are other Southland hospitals.