NUHW members in Napa protest dangerous staffing shortages
Confronting another COVID surge without enough people on staff to protect their health or safely care for patients, NUHW members on January 19 picketed outside Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.
Workers who include nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, medical technicians, and food service staff, held two rallies with local elected officials who supported their call for the hospital to provide raises in order to improve staffing. The pickets were covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Napa Valley Register, KTVU-2, and KPIX-5.
“It’s pretty brutal. Every day COVID just keeps coming and coming and coming,” Paula Reimers, a respiratory therapist told the Chronicle. “Everybody is feeling the burnout, and probably more this year than last year.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Queen of the Valley has cut staffing of key positions by 10 percent. Additionally, with approximately 1 in 10 of the current staff out on leave due to the Omicron surge, the hospital has abandoned safety protocols and forced patients to wait longer for care.
- Patients are having to wait several days in the Emergency Room to be admitted to the hospital or transferred due to a lack of staffed beds in the hospital, including the Intensive Care Unit.
- Without enough caregivers to staff a dedicated COVID unit, as it had during previous surges, Queen of the Valley has had to disperse COVID patients throughout the facility. This has increased the risk of COVID transmission and forced patients to wait longer for bedside care because caregivers have to take additional time changing protective gear and sanitizing equipment.
- With more patients and fewer caregivers, the hospital is directing caregivers to turn over rooms in the ER that were previously occupied by COVID patients without enough time to sufficiently ventilate them.
“This is the least safe I’ve ever felt on the job,”said Jennifer Mini-Bera, a phlebotomist at Queen of the Valley. “We’re in survival mode. We don’t have enough people to adequately care for our patients, and things will get worse if the hospital doesn’t take immediate action to retain staff.”
Queen of the Valley has ignored a growing staffing crisis as the pandemic has unfolded. Last April, NUHW members protested when the hospital laid off 11 caregivers, nearly all of whom eventually were offered their jobs back because the hospital didn’t have enough workers to provide adequate patient care, as a growing number of employees have opted to leave the Napa hospital for nearby facilities that offer higher wages.
To address the staffing shortage, NUHW members at Queen of the Valley are demanding the hospital improve both recruitment and retention to provide safer patient care. Workers proposed raises for more than 30 job classifications to be more competitive with Kaiser and Sutter hospitals amid rising inflation.
However, Queen executives rejected the proposal and countered with a much narrower proposal that would provide lower wage increases for several job classifications and leave many of the hospital’s lowest paid workers without any wage increase at all.
Queen of the Valley is owned and operated by Providence, the nation’s fourth largest Catholic hospital chain, which reported a $740 million net profit in 2020 along with $15.3 billion in cash reserves. While Providence created a dangerous staffing shortage at Queen of the Valley, it paid $36.5 million in salaries and bonuses to its top 10 executives in 2020 — a 13 percent increase over 2019. The chain has also received $2.7 billion in government funds since the start of the pandemic.
“Providence is making billions of dollars while we burn out struggling against another surge without enough caregivers to keep us and our patients safe,” Tiffany Miller, an Emergency Technician and Napa resident said. “We’re at a breaking point. We want to provide our community with safe and dependable care, but there’s only so many overtime shifts we can work. This is not a safely staffed hospital. We can’t keep caregivers, and we can’t fill vacant jobs. We’re facing a crisis, and Providence is trying to protect its profits instead of its Napa patients.”