More and more healthcare workers are challenging their employers’ responses to the industry’s widespread physician burnout crisis and massive workforce shortages. For example, the nurses from Kaiser Permanente and Stanford Medical Center were successful last year – both groups were able to negotiate a wage increase and better staffing provisions.
Workers at the nation’s largest for-profit health care system, HCA Healthcare, have their own effort planned for Thursday. About 300 employees will gather at HCA’s West Hills, Calif., hospital to call attention to dire staffing levels at the health system’s more than 150 hospitals in 19 states.
Understaffing not only harms the well-being of healthcare workers but also patients, said Rosanna Mendez, executive director of SEIU Local 121RN, a California nurses union. It’s not uncommon for a patient to fall out of bed at an HCA hospital because there’s no nurse to help them get to the bathroom, she said. Patients often have to wait much longer than they should to receive their medication because nurses are not available to administer it, Mendez explained.
She claims her union members “did everything they could to get HCA to do the right thing.” For example 1200 nurses at HCA Riverside Community Hospital went to a 10-day strike in 2020 to request an improvement for the staff shortage. Union members also filed objection forms with their hospitals and worked with labor-management committees to try to resolve the issue, Mendez said.
“Honestly, they just tried so many different things and reached a breaking point because they weren’t being heard. The HCA takes what they say and it goes in one ear and out the other,” she said. “Ultimately, this causes enormous moral, psychological and emotional harm to nurses. They go home in tears because they can’t provide the care they want to provide.”
HCA health workers are particularly frustrated with their employer because of how much money the company makes, Mendez said. In 2021 HCA generated revenue of $58 billion, with $7 billion in profit. The health system distributed $8 billion in share buybacks to its shareholders.
HCA is in a “more than healthy position” to be able to alleviate severe staffing shortages that are impacting nurses and patients, Mendez said. The purpose of Thursday’s rally is to show HCA that its employees know how profitable the company is and that they won’t be able to put up with the working conditions much longer, she said.
“It’s not a lack of ability – it’s an absolute lack of will. Because it is so profitable, HCA has the ability to pay workers, retain them, and hire workers to help with staffing. They make a conscious decision to understaff and therefore not provide the patient care that patients deserve,” Mendez said.
HCA health workers traveled from various states to attend the rally, including Nevada, Texas, Florida and Kansas.
If HCA doesn’t prove it’s taking action to address its workers’ concerns after the rally, Mendez said “there’s a very strong possibility” workers will strike.
In a statement by HCA sent to MedCitythe health system said the rally was “an expected tactic as we prepare to begin our regular bargaining cycle with the union over the next several weeks.”
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