St. Joseph Hospital Faces Criticism as Staffing Crisis Looms

Sep 10, 2018

Supporters and members of Hospital union groups gathered to protest a staffing crisis at St. Joseph's and Redwood Memorial Hospitals in Humboldt County.
Credit Natalya Estrada

Close to 100 people stood at the edge of Harrison Avenue, near St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka on Monday, to protest what’s considered a staffing crisis by the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association.

Several members of the Eureka City Council-Austin Allison and Kim Bergel, Humboldt County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone and Allen McCloskey, a lab technician at St. Joseph with the NUHW were present at the conference. McCloskey said after the purchase of the hospitals by Providence Health and Services in 2016, that the main concern for management is now productivity and profits, instead of patient care. He added that there are currently open investigations into two patient deaths, both of which correlate to the staffing crisis. Staff concerns, according to the two union groups, were not addressed by hospital officials.

“We have been blatantly ignored and intentionally disregarded. As I said, they are more concerned with their profits than they are with the community and our patients,” he said and explained that a profit of $43.77 million was earned last year at St. Joseph in Eureka and that Redwood Memorial in Fortuna brought in $14.38 million. He also stated that within a 4 year period, Redwood Memorial brought in more than $50 million dollars and St. Joseph brought in an excess of $135 million worth of profit.

Allen McCloskey, a lab technician at St. Joseph’s with the NUHW speaks at Monday's press conference about staffing and inproper care concerns raised by hospital staff and patients.
Credit Natalya Estrada

“So there is plenty of money here folks, for a non-profit right?” McClosky said and added that the surplus of funds should adequately fund enough care and meet the public's obligation for additional staffing. That extra staffind would aid current workers who feel overworked and fatigued.

Ruby Sierra, who works as a cardiac monitor technician for St. Joseph’s Progressive Care Unit felt the pressure of the crisis last week when there was no extra staff to relieve her for a bathroom break. Faced with nowhere to turn, Sierra said she urinated all over herself after her manager could not provide an extra person to help with more than 40 patients.

“And after no one arrived, I soiled myself. I couldn’t just walk out of the monitor room. I had 40 sick patients to look out for. I just couldn’t leave them unattended. That is not safe,” Sierra said. “A million emotions raced through my head. I was humiliated and demoralized by my own manager.”

Cardiac monitor technician, Ruby Sierra, talks about the humiliating experience of "soiling" herself after she was not relieved for a break at her station where she cares for 40 or more patients.
Credit Natalya Estrada

Sierra claimed she was retaliated against for speaking out, not only for herself but for other staff members and patients not receiving proper care.

Chief Executive of St. Joseph Health-Humboldt County, Roberta Luskin-Hawk, provided a statement to KHSU via email in response to the union activity. 

As a physician leader, patient safety and quality care are my highest priorities. Since my arrival, the leadership team and I have been focused on ways we can enhance the care of our patients and support our caregivers in this work. The willingness to evolve as health care is transformed across the country and the commitment to safety and quality care are some of the things that most attracted me to St. Joseph Health, an organization that has been committed to caring for the health and well-being of this community for nearly 100 years. Our work helps the people of this community live better, healthier lives.

 These facts are why it was all the more disappointing to read the latest misleading claims by the unions, many of which have been addressed previously. Indeed, our hospital recently underwent a site visit and review by the California Department of Public Health, which found we are in full compliance regarding staffing. And under no circumstance has a patient death occurred in our facility due to the use of bed alarms. 

As health care in our country evolves, so too must our work. We are challenging the way we have done things and seeking opportunities to make the work we do easier and more aligned. We are making changes to some of our processes, programs and services and understand that these changes are difficult for the unions to understand. Rather than fighting change on its face, we invite the unions to consider certain change will benefit this community, our patients and caregivers. We invite the unions to share their ideas as we respond to the rapidly evolving health care climate, move toward the future, and work to ensure the sustainability of our organization.


Addionally, St. Joseph representative, Vanessa DeGier, explained via email that both the unions-the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association have tried to characterize their operating margin as profits but that St. Joseph's is a non-profit organization which does not post profits or reward shareholders. Instead, they "reinvest" back into the community by maintaing much needed facilities, services and outreach which include their care for what they call "our most vulnerable neighbors." 


DeGier also listed several of the organization's recent investments: 

$10.5 million investment in the creation of a new inpatient rehabilitation facility at RMH.

$531,000 for building and staffing new seven bed observation unit at SJE to provide additional beds for patients whose conditions can be treated in a short hospital stay.

$60,000 for creation of psychiatric telehealth service for patients who arrive at the emergency departments at RMH and SJE in need of psychiatric treatment and evaluation.

$11.2 million in community benefit investment to improve important determinants of health, such as preventive screenings, access to behavioral health services and nutrition education.

$2,077,155 in charity care and an additional 

$800,000 supporting Open Door Community Health Centers, Hospice of Humboldt, St. Joseph Home Care Network and the PACE program, organizations that fill critical healthcare needs in our community.

$10 million on completion of the NE Tower project, including new kitchen and emergency exit requirement.

$1.5 million in facility improvement and maintenance.

$3 million in equipment purchases.