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Fountain Valley hospital workers authorize strike

More than 800 registered nurses and other healthcare workers at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center have voted to authorize a strike, claiming they’re short-staffed, underpaid and scrambling to find needed equipment.

Those conditions have prompted many nurses to leave the facility, according to another nurse who is still employed there.

In a vote Thursday, Oct. 20, 96% of the nurses, pharmacists, social workers, laboratory scientists and therapists represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers voted to authorize a walkout, which could begin as early as next month.

The starting date and duration of a potential strike have yet to be determined. Labor negotiations between the workers and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., the hospital’s parent company, resume Tuesday, Oct. 25.

The employees were previously represented by United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC) but felt that union wasn’t adequately addressing their concerns, so they voted in March to decertify their association with UNAC and opted instead to be represented by NUHW.

They have been in negotiations with Tenet since June on what will likely be a three-year contract.

All surgeries at the 400-bed, acute-care facility were canceled Friday because its air conditioning system was not working for the third time in several months, the union said. NUHW added that California Department of Public Health officials were on site this week investigating employee complaints.

Representatives with Fountain Valley and Tenet could not be reached for comment Friday.

158 complaints filed

Fountain Valley hospital workers filed 158 complaints to the CDPH between June and August 2022, the union said, outlining alleged nurse-to-patient ratio violations, broken equipment and safety issues at the hospital.

In responding to the complaints, CDPH noted deficiencies and called for corrective action. On June 19, for example, two nurses in the medical/surgical/telemetry unit were assigned to care for five patients each, which exceeded the state-mandated ratio of four patients per nurse.

“Based on interview and record review, the hospital failed to ensure the licensed nurse-to-patient ratio in the medical/surgical/telemetry unit was maintained as required,” the state agency said.

Repesentatives with Tenet could not be reached for comment Friday.

A chronic problem

Maggie Desierto, a surgical nurse at Fountain Valley, said understaffing is a chronic problem, adding that many nurses left the hospital between January and May of 2022.

“I’m seeing two to three more leaving each month,” the 58-year-old Fountain Valley resident said. “We often have no CNAs (certified nursing assistants) to help.”

Desierto said secretaries who are supposed to be answering the phones are often not there.

“I called the other morning to touch base and the phone just rang and rang,” she said. “No one ever answered. That could present problems when a physician or patient’s family calls in for important information.”

Staffing shortages are so prevalent that Fountain Valley is offering $500 bonuses to nurses who are willing to work an extra shift, the union said.

Equipment shortages are also common.

“I deal with patients who are getting back from surgery, and I’ll need things like IV poles and machines that take frequent vital signs,” Desierto said. “Many times, I’ll be running around for 20 minutes trying to gather the equipment I need, and that includes commodes, walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen equipment.”

Lacey Vasquez, another registered nurse at the hospital, voiced another concern.

“When we’re short-staffed, not only is patient care compromised, but as licensed professionals, we have to consider whether our licensure is at risk when we are working in these conditions,” she said.

Desierto said the starting wage for nurses at Fountain Valley is roughly $40 an hour, about 12% less than nurses earn at Tenet’s Los Alamitos Medical Center and other Tenet facilities in the area.

Source: Orange County Register

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