Saturday, 18 May 2024

Union uses picket to focus on patient care concerns

LAKEPORT – A Sutter Lakeside Hospital official says that a Wednesday informational picket of the hospital by union members has little to do with working conditions there, while the union is using the opportunity to raise patient care issues.


SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) members will hold the informational picket from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the hospital on Wednesday at the hospital's main campus on Hill Road East.


Also on Wednesday, UHW plans strikes at 10 hospitals around the state, including five belonging to Sutter Health, as Lake County News has reported. The union reported that UHW workers have been in negotiations with Sutter Health for months, and have been without a contract since Sept. 30.


A Sutter Health information sheet on the UHW actions said the strike has “nothing to do with employees who work within some Sutter Health hospitals and everything to do with increasing power, membership and money for UHW.”


Sutter Health states it pays higher-than-average wages to its employees, with medical records clerks receiving an average of $44,336, far above the $28,558 paid by other Northern California hospitals.


Sutter Lakeside Hospital spokesman Mitch Proaps said the union presented its proposals to the hospital in the middle of September, and Sutter Lakeside is now in the midst of answering them.


“I can't really respond to what may or may not be in those proposals,” he said. “I have to respect the negotiations process. We do our negotiations at the table, not through the media.”


Proaps said the hospital and UHW are scheduled to meet to discuss the contract proposals in November.


He said he's not aware of the specific issues the union is using as the reason for the Wednesday event. “They're not at liberty to tell us their motives for the picket.”


Proaps added, however, that it's the hospital's assumption that the picket at Sutter Lakeside is in support of labor actions outside of the area due to where they're at in the negotiations process locally.


Stefanie Edwards, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a nursing student who also is a UHW member, said she's worked at the hospital for a little over a year. Currently, Edwards is in the hospital's outpatient unit, where she works on a per-diem basis a few days a week.


The main concern for her is a proposal to have a patient to CNA ratio of 16 to 1. “Even in nursing homes they have more staff per patient.”


Edwards said registered nurses, who normally are in charge of more advanced medical care and passing medications, also are doing more duties like bathing normally assigned to CNAs, and that raises concerns over the quality of patient care.


She added that she's seen staff get fewer work hours since the hospital's change to critical access designation became effective earlier this year. “We've seen them keep only one CNA for the whole med-surge wing.”


Edwards said the hospital had said it would not cut hours or lay off staff due to the designation change, but she and others have experienced drastic hour cuts.

 

She said the ratio change appeared to have occurred about two or three weeks ago, after the September exit of the hospital's former chief executive officer, Kelly Mather.


Proaps said the hospital's CNA contract was settled some time ago, and the state mandates particular ratios for patient to nurses and caregivers. “We run a hospital here,” he said. “Our main priority is patient care.”


He added that staff hours depend on census numbers, not the critical access designation. “Census has always driven staffing, regardless of what your capacity is.”


The critical access designation limits a hospital's beds to 25. As of Sunday, the hospital's census was 22, with a month-to-date average of 19 and a year-to-date average of 20 patients, said Proaps.


Patients are either being sent to other facilities in Santa Rosa and Ukiah, or being sent home early because of fewer beds, said Edwards. She added that she hasn't seen a larger ratio of people being sent to the skilled facilities, like Evergreen or Lakeport Skilled.


Lakeport Skilled Nursing Administrator Debra Sims said her facility hasn't seen more patients due to the critical access designation. “I can't say it has remarkably increased.”


The facility, which Sims said depends on hospital for patients, has worked “very smoothly” with Sutter Lakeside since the hospital's access change.


The formal contract between the hospital and care facility was never finalized – which Sims said was on Lakeport Skilled's side, with the agreement still in the hands of their legal department. However, they are working with the hospital as if it had been finalized, and they talk with the hospital daily.


Proaps confirmed that a formal, signed bed agreement hasn't been reached with Lakeport Skilled Nursing yet. He said the hospital is working closely with both Lakeport Skilled and Evergreen Lakeport, and the hospital has been impressed by how receptive the facilities have been to Sutter Lakeside's needs.


He said the hospital receives a daily report on bed availability which, between the two facilities, hasn't proved to be an issue. That's one of the areas in which the process has run much more smoothly than anticipated since the critical access conversion.


Proaps said Sutter Lakeside has an “impressively low” vacancy turnover rate, far below Sutter Health's and the state's average.


He also emphasized that the hospital has not reduced its services due to the critical access change, with emergency, intensive care and other important services still very much present.


Proaps said the hospital doesn't plan to take any action regarding the picket. “That's their right and we honor it.”


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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