Union Members Picket St. Joseph After Staff Firings

Sep 25, 2018

NUHW's Renee Saucedo leads hospital union members, nurses and community members in a march around the sidewalk near St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. The group was in protest of the recent lay off of 35 staff members in what supporters call a "staffing crisis" on Tuesday, September 25, 2018.
Credit Natalya Estrada

More than a hundred people attended a picket rally at the front of the main entrance to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. Previously, the same members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association staged a protest on what they call a "staffing crisis" happening at both Providence hospitals in Humboldt County. Several days after the initial protest this month, 35 staff members were laid off. The nonprofit company, Providence acquired St. Joseph in Eureka and Redwood Memorial in Fortuna in 2016. 

The nonprofit compay, Providence acquired St. Joseph in Eureka and Redwood Memorial in Fortuna in 2016. 

Kari Helgson, a union steward with the NUHW and member with the Labor Management Advisory Committee said staff shortages have been an ongoing problem, not only in the Humboldt based Providene Hospitals, but also at St. Joseph in Santa Rosa. She said for two years the LMAC has met with hospital administrators to discuss solutions to the problem, but that meetings with Providence were not met with much progress. 

Protesters were met with support by passing cars on Harrison St. in Eureka as they advocated against alleged staffing shortages at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka.
Credit Natalya Estrada

"We really have gotten nowhere, so none of these conversations are new. It's just the lay offs are new," Helgson explained that the recent firings is taking a huge toll on current hospital staff and patients. 

"It seems like a big corporation just taking over and not really caring about our community," Helgson said. "Local management has almost been stripped of their rights to do anything or help in anyway. They rely solely on productivity numbers which are skewed."

She said that in her own department there are staff members who can work an entire day, barely get breaks or a whole lunch, and still be told their productivity is bad.

Other hospital workers expressed discontent with the current staffing situation, including St. Joseph Registered Nurse Randee Litten, who spent her lunch break picketing with the rest of the crowd. 

"It's chaos, and unfortunately this is a typical day for our ER now. I'm running with three techs short. I've had two traumas. I've had two code blues. I don't have the staff to appropriately run these codes," Litten said. "This is a cause that I believe in. This is a cause that I think the community needs to get on board with. The only way that we're going to elicit change is if the entire community comes together and agrees that this is important." 

Litten said the staff that was cut are important to everyday functions that have to do with patient care. 

"There are definitely longer wait times. I'd like to believe we're capable smart nurses and doctors, but we just need more of them," she said. "Every single one of those people that were let go is vital. I, in a perfect world, would bring back all 35 of them." 

The picketing lasted for several hours throughout Tuesday afternoon with key Eureka City Council members like Natalie Arroyo and Austin Allision in support and attendance. Meanwhile, marketing and communications manager for St. Joseph Hospital, Christian Hill, provided an emailed statement on the union to KHSU. 

"While the unions continue an unwarranted negative attack campaign against our hospitals, the committed caregivers who care for our community will continue to remain focused and steadfast in their mission and not allow this disruption to negatively affect our patients, their families, or our caregivers.

The community deserves the facts, not misleading claims by the unions concerning staffing and patient safety. Let us be clear: we will never compromise our high standards in terms of quality and safety. Great care and robust services are available at our hospitals and we stand by our track record of providing excellent health and wellness care in Humboldt County." 

The NUHW listed several postions in their campaign to increase staffing. Those included in St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka are: seven ED techs in their emergency department; two weekday x-ray techs, two graveyard weekend CT/x-ray techs, two regular graveyar CT/x-ray techs, one relief x-ray tech and one relief transport in their radiology department; four ultrasound techs, two mammo techs, seven schedulers, one doc management, one authorization and one CT full-time tech in their ultrasound department; one CAN for every eight patients, two monitor techs per shift, and no authrization required by MD or RN for CCAs in their in-patient rehab department; one day shift secretary in their PCU department; nien housekeepers, one trash for every second shift, three graveyard shift, one floor tech for the first shift and one floor tech for swing shift in their EVS department. 

Those included for Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna are: one graveyard tech, two full-time permanent for days techs, one permanent echo/general tech and one relief admin clerk for their radiology department; 1.5 part time techs in their pharmacy department, two scrub techs in their OR department, one part-time permanent SPD tech and an expansion of room and equipment in their SPD department.