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Union Workers Picket Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica
By Jorge Casuso
October 13, 2017 -- Union workers at Saint John's Medical Center, who are in the midst of negotiating an agreement, picketed Wednesday to protest what they claim is understaffing at Santa Monica's 75-year-old hospital.
The picket also was intended to draw attention to a plan that "would prohibit workers from publicly airing concerns about patient care," said officials for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).
“Our goal is to provide the best patient care but that’s hard to do when we’re short staffed and unable to respond to patients’ calls for help,” Linda Phongsvej, a Respiratory Therapist at the hospital said in a statement.
“Patients should have confidence that when they walk into the hospital that someone will respond as soon as possible," Phongsvej said. "This is what my co-workers and I strive for, and why we are raising the issue of staffing.”
SEIU officials said a survey of 154 Saint John's workers conducted last month found that 47 percent reported staffing cuts in their departments over the past year. More than a third "indicated that understaffing delays their ability to respond to patient call lights," union officials said.
Hospital officials said they were "disappointed" the workers, who voted to join the union in February, picketed in the midst of ongoing negotiations.
"While the hospital respects its employees’ right to participate in union activities, we are disappointed that the union has chosen to focus on an informational picket, rather than on the bargaining table," Saint John's officials said in a statement released Wednesday.
"Providence Saint John’s Health Center remains committed to negotiating in good faith with SEIU-UHW and is working to develop an agreement that benefits our caregivers, as well as the community we serve," officials said.
Hospitals across the country are cutting staff as they grapple with flat reimbursements and escalating costs for salaries, medicines and supplies, according to STAT, a newsletter that focuses on the nation's $3.4 trillion healthcare industry.
Adding to the financial challenges is a rapidly aging population that demands more services but relies on Medicare coverage that pays hospitals less, as well uncertainty over the potential impact of healthcare reform in Washington, STAT reported earlier this year.
Saint John's is Santa Monica's fourth largest employer and had 1,750 employees last year, according the City's Department of Economic Development.
The largest employer is UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica ("Little Change in List of Santa Monica's Top Industries and Employers," October 4, 2017).
More than 450 workers at the hospital -- including nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacy technicians -- are members of SEIU.
Union officials say the hospital is proposing a “gag rule” that prohibits workers from speaking publicly about patient care problems, calling it "an attempt to deter them from reporting serious issues."
City Council member Kevin McKeown, who stopped by the picket, said understaffing was a "public safety issue."
“Too few staffers at a big box retailer is an inconvenience, but understaffed hospitals are an urgent health care and public safety issue," McKeown said.
"Santa Monica residents and their families need to know that local hospital stays include adequate personnel on hand to tend to patient needs.”
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