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West Anaheim Medical Center workers picket over understaffing

Nurses, respiratory therapists and other workers at West Anaheim Medical Center picketed the facility Monday, claiming patient care and employee health are suffering because they are severely understaffed.

The employees, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), also say they earn less than their counterparts at other area hospitals who do the same work.

West Anaheim management said it plans to continue labor negotiations that are in the best interests of both patients and employees. The workers’ contract expired Oct. 10.

The employees, represented by National Union of Healthcare Workers also say they earn less than their counterparts at other area hospitals who do the same work. (Photo courtesy of the National Union of Healthcare Workers)

A wave of departures

In recent months, the 167-bed acute-care hospital lost nearly all of its phlebotomists, who perform laboratory work, as well as many respiratory therapists who operate ventilators. Nurses are having to take on extra work as a result, the union said, leaving the hospital woefully unprepared in the event of another COVID-19 surge.

In a complaint filed last week with the California Department of Public Health, NUHW said West Anaheim is violating the county’s requirement that it maintain a dedicated cardiovascular cath lab team available and on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to treat emergency heart attacks.

“The hospital doesn’t maintain a dedicated team of two technicians between 5:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. weekdays or anytime on Saturdays and Sundays,” the complaint said. “Instead of being always available to treat an emergency heart attack, techs assigned to the cath lab are given the added responsibilities of staffing interventional radiology (IR) procedures.”

Two separate teams are maintained for IR and cath lab procedures during regular working hours (7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays), the complaint said, but if one tech is out sick or otherwise unable to work, the hospital doesn’t provide a backup.

“It’s gotten to the point where people are getting sick staff-wise,” said Jeanne Waite, a nurse in the hospital’s behavioral health unit. “I got sick in July because my immune system had been compromised from all the stress.”

West Anaheim responds

In a statement issued Monday, West Anaheim Medical Center spokeswoman Cristal Gonzalez said the hospital is working to reach a labor contract both sides can agree to.

“We have been negotiating with NUHW for the past several months in good faith and a date is set to further negotiate the end of this month,” Gonzalez said. “Unfortunately, the union decided to picket. We can both agree that patient care is our highest priority, and our goal is to move forward together as a team to serve our patients and community.”

Wage gaps

NUHW, which represents 118 employees at West Anaheim, provided data that shows employees there earn significantly less than their counterparts at other area hospitals.

The hourly start rate for respiratory therapists at West Anaheim is $25.73, for example, while new therapists at St. Francis Medical Center earn $30.72 an hour, and those at U.S. Irvine Medical Center start at $37.23 an hour.

Similar wage gaps hold true for others at West Anaheim. A licensed vocational nurse with 10 years of experience is paid $26.32 an hour compared to an LVN at Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center, who earns an hourly wage of $33.04.

“We’re committed to serving our community, but can’t provide the care our patients need if West Anaheim won’t pay enough to keep caregivers here,” Waite said.

Allegations of understaffing have surfaced at a variety of medical facilities in recent months.

A recent strike that would have seen nearly 27,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walk off their Southern California jobs, in part because of understaffing, was narrowly avoided when a tentative agreement was reached Saturday, Nov. 13.


Source: Orange County Register

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