NUHW members win COVID improvements at Orange County hospitals

COVID-19August 11, 2020

Dear NUHW member:

Our members in Orange County have been confronting many of the same problems that so many NUHW members currently face— employers that fail to provide enough PPE, deny them COVID-19 tests and refuse to test all newly admitted patients.

Over the past several months, NUHW members in Orange County have taken a series of actions to pressure their employers to prioritize their health. And, they’re winning! They’ve won changes, including:

  1. Hazard pay at West Anaheim Medical Center and Kindred hospitals in Westminster and Brea.
  2. Improved access to PPE and regular COVID-19 testing of all NUHW members at Kindred Hospital Westminster.
  3. Safer cohorting of COVID-19 patients at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

Fountain Valley Regional Hospital

Fountain Valley is owned by Tenet Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company that nevertheless was refusing to isolate COVID patients and forcing caregivers to treat both COVID-positive and non-COVID patients on the same shift, wearing the same PPE.

In advance of their first protest last month over the hospital’s substandard safety procedures, workers filed a complaint with the California Department of Public Health. The agency found so many issues that it received approval from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to launch a much broader survey of the entire hospital. This larger survey included a seven-day visit by four agency surveyors and a doctor.

Although the findings have not been released, the hospital has already begun to isolate COVID-19 patients, several of whom had been previously placed in the same unit as cancer patients.

Now, we’re focusing our demands for the hospital to test all newly admitted patients and provide regular COVID-19 testing to employees. Our second protest, last Thursday, was covered by the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Becker’s Hospital Review.

Our members were also joined by about 20 nurses, including Jennifer Carter, who told the LA Times: “There’s a lot of fear — of getting COVID-19, bringing it home to family, giving it to patients. Every patient who comes into the emergency room should be tested. If they leave our ER, but they’re asymptomatic, they’re going to go out and spread it.”

Kindred Healthcare

Our earliest victory followed our worst tragedy. After a COVID-19 outbreak at Kindred Hospital Brea infected 27 workers and ended the life of nurse Roda Vicuna, workers fought for and won a dedicated COVID-19 unit, COVID-19 testing for all patients and staff, hazard pay, and regular labor-management meetings to further discuss infection-control protocols.

However, Kindred refused to extend these safeguards to workers at its nearby hospital in Westminster — until now. After Westminster workers held an informational picket that generated several newspaper and television news stories, management offered concessions shortly before a second picket was scheduled to start last week. Stewards are recommending that their colleagues approve management’s offer, which includes:

  1. Monthly COVID-19 testing for all workers.
  2. N95 masks for all hospital employees.
  3. Hazard pay for workers serving COVID-19 patients.
  4. Weekly labor-management COVID-19 meetings.

West Anaheim Medical Center

When the pandemic began, this Prime Healthcare hospital rejected our call for hazard  pay. Now it has proposed paying an additional $7 per hour to respiratory therapists, and we are requesting that the differential also go to additional classifications at the hospital.

Our progress in Orange County is a testament to the power of strong organizing for worker and patient safety during an unprecedented public health crisis. When we join together to demand change, we win!

Fill out the survey

Preliminary results from our COVID-19 survey helped get press coverage for the Fountain Valley protest, and was referenced in the Los Angeles Times article.

But we need more folks to participate. The more people who fill out the survey, the more hard evidence we’ll have to take to employers and political leaders, and make the case for increasing testing, expanding COVID-related paid time off and securing more PPE.

Please take the survey.

In Unity,

Sal Rosselli, President
Sophia Mendoza, Secretary-Treasurer
National Union of Healthcare Workers