NUHW members picket West Anaheim Medical Center over staffing crisis

NewsNovember 23, 2021

More than 100 nurses, respiratory therapists and medical technicians picketed West Anaheim Medical Center on November 22 demanding that the hospital address a worsening staffing crisis that is putting patients at risk.

“It’s gotten to the point where people are getting sick staff-wise,” Jeanne Waite, a nurse in the hospital’s behavioral health unit, told the Orange County Register. “I got sick in July because my immune system had been compromised from all the stress. We’re committed to serving our community, but can’t provide the care our patients need if West Anaheim won’t pay enough to keep caregivers here.”

In recent months, West Anaheim has lost nearly all of its phlebotomists, who perform laboratory work, as well as numerous respiratory therapists who operate ventilators. As a result nurses are having to take on additional tasks and the hospital is woefully unprepared should there be another winter COVID surge.

The week before the picket, NUHW filed a complaint with the California Department of Public Health documenting that the hospital is violating county staffing requirements for its lab that treats patients suffering heart attacks.

“West Anaheim has pushed understaffing to the limit, and now it’s impacting patient safety,” said Angel Francia, a cardiac/vascular interventional technologist, who works at the cardiac catheterization lab. 

During a rally, Congressman Lou Correa expressed his support for the workers telling them, “I’m here to support you for a contract that supplies you just compensation for your services and protects the patients.”

West Anaheim Medical Center is a 167-bed acute care hospital owned by Prime Healthcare. Despite reporting a $5 million profit last year, the hospital has rejected contract proposals from caregivers for raises that would help the hospital recruit and retain more workers as well as require it to adequately staff its cardiac catheterization lab in accordance with county regulations.

As one of 25 hospitals in Orange County designated to receive emergency heart attack patients, West Anaheim is eligible to perform highly lucrative procedures that generate large reimbursements from insurance companies. However, the hospital is violating the county’s requirement that it always have a team on call for emergency heart attacks.

On weekends and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays, West Anaheim assigns medical technicians in the cardiac catheterization lab to perform other procedures, leaving the hospital without a full team to handle emergency heart attacks. On October 17, 2021, a patient died of a heart attack while undergoing a procedure at the hospital. Even if the patient had been stabilized, West Anaheim would not have had a team at the cardiac catheterization lab available to provide care, in violation of county requirements.