Riverside Community Hospital nurses protest staffing, work conditions – Orange County Register

Monique Hernandez says her days are often sabotaged before she even begins work.

As a nurse in the telemetry unit at HCA’s Riverside Community Hospital, she’s supposed to care for a maximum of four patients at a time. But many days, she says that ratio is higher.

And in a department where critical patients must undergo continuous cardiac monitoring, even one more patient creates added stress.

“When you get to work and see you have to care for a fifth patient, you feel deflated — you’re already starting from behind,” the 42-year-old Beaumont resident said. “And you’re thinking, ‘How will I be able to spread myself that thin?’ “

Hernandez’s frustration and that of other nurses spilled out Wednesday at a picket of the facility at 4445 Magnolia Ave. The hospital’s 1,200 nurses, represented by SEIU Local 121RN, have been in labor negotiations for four months with a contract that’s set to expire Sept. 15.

They say the staffing shortfall has caused many nurses to leave for work at other hospitals.

Meghan Meyer, an ICU nurse at Riverside Community, said the situation worsened when the hospital outsourced its telephone operator jobs to Las Vegas. They are responsible for answering the switchboard and paging medical staff to other areas of the hospital during emergencies.

“When we call a code for a patient being in distress, these people don’t know where the various rooms in the hospital are, so they can’t tell us where to go,” Meyer said. “And we often hear long delays between the time we call in a code and when we hear an overhead page for a rapid-response team.”

Those delays, she said, can lead to bad patient outcomes.

“One time it took over 4 minutes, and that’s the amount of time it takes for a brain without oxygen to lose function,” Meyer said.

In a statement issued Wednesday, hospital spokesman David Maxfield said Riverside Community values its caregivers and provides a safe environment for patients and staff that’s in compliance with state regulations.

“Wednesday’s activity is an expected tactic as we continue to bargain with the labor union, SEIU 121RN, in the next few weeks,” he said.

Maxfield noted that Riverside Community is the only hospital in California to be recognized by Healthgrades as a national leader in three areas — vascular surgery outcomes, patient safety and clinical performance related to common conditions and procedures.

Still, nurses say they’re stretched thin and often work with a skeleton staff that jeopardizes the safety of patients. They say HCA has the resources to make staffing, safety and facility improvements, but has opted to place profit over patient care.

Those same concerns led Riverside Community nurses — along with nurses at HCA-owned Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center — to stage a 10-day strike in 2020.

Crisis-level staffing introduced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has now become the norm, they say.

“We got into this profession to do good, to help people,” Hernandez said. “But when your labor is exploited this way it’s heart-wrenching. And you take that home with you.”

HCA Healthcare recently reported second-quarter 2023 earnings of $15.8 billion — a $1 billion increase from the same period in 2022.

Complaints of understaffing have become a common theme at medical facilities throughout Southern California, including Prime Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, Kaiser facilities throughout Southern California, West Anaheim Medical Center, and several LA County nursing homes, among others.

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