San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center workers to strike Thursday and Friday, August 20 and 21

August 19th, 2015

Caregivers protest poor and deteriorating patient care conditions, drastic cuts to healthcare coverage and other benefits, and wages that have stagnated for four years

Facility’s owner, Brius Healthcare, California’s largest and operator of nursing homes, accused of “flagrant disregard for human life” in Sacramento Bee investigative series

SAN RAFAEL — Sixty NUHW-represented caregivers at San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center will strike for two days, Thursday and Friday, August 20 and 21, and picket in front of the facility at 1601 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael. 

Community leaders will join workers on the picket line and speak at noontime rallies Thursday and Friday.

As reported in a damning exposé by the Sacramento Bee’s investigative reporting team, the facility’s owner, Brius Healthcare Services, California’s largest and most notorious nursing home operator, has been repeatedly cited and fined by regulators and accused by a long-term care ombudsman of “flagrant disregard for human life” for dismal conditions and severe understaffing in the 81 nursing homes the corporation runs throughout the state. 

Brius is the subject of investigations by state and federal authorities, including the California Attorney General and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which has barred multiple Brius nursing homes from caring for Medicare patients. The company has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits filed by residents and their families.

Since Los Angeles-based Brius bought San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center in 2012, the facility’s violations of state health laws have doubled, according to state records. Medicare gives the facility a one-star rating out of five.

“The staffing levels are awful,” says Certified Nursing Assistant Maria Martinez. “Residents are not getting the care they need, they’re not getting the food and nutrition they need, and residents are getting chronic bedsores because of neglect. The center has a terrible reputation in town and it’s getting worse.”

The poor conditions are taking a toll on caregivers, too. Not only are they unable to provide the quality care their patients need, Brius frequently cites the lack of staffing in denying workers the use of their earned sick leave and vacation time. Morale has been further diminished by stagnant wages — San Rafael caregivers have not had a wage increase in four years — and sharp cuts to their healthcare coverage. Staff turnover has doubled under Brius’ management. 

“The cost of living keeps rising and Brius’ profits are through the roof — more than $600 million a year,” says Maria. “But we’re losing ground. We’re working longer hours for low pay while our healthcare and living expenses just keeping going up and up.”

Brius is apparently operating under the assumption that a workforce composed almost exclusively of women of color won’t have the strength to stand up to them. But San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center’s sixty caregivers, with the support of many of the center’s residents and their families, as well as community leaders, are doing just that, having voted unanimously to strike. Their demand is simple: stop short-changing residents and caregivers to boost the corporation’s bottom line. 

“No one wants a strike,” says Maria, “but Brius has left us no choice. They have shown profound disrespect and disregard for their residents and staff.”

Workers at San Francisco Nursing Center will also strike Thursday and Friday. The San Rafael and San Francisco facilities have different owners, but both employ union-busting Los Angeles attorney Josh Sable to handle “labor relations.” San Francisco Nursing Center’s new owner, Providence Group, stripped the workers of their Kaiser healthcare plan with little notice, pushing many workers into an inferior but more expensive plan while others have been forced to rely on taxpayer-funded options like Medi-Cal. Providence has refused to negotiate with the workers over the changes that have made it more difficult for their caregivers to live and work in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led, democratic movement for quality patient care and a stronger voice for workers. NUHW represents 11,000 healthcare workers throughout California, including 60 nursing assistants, rehab assistants, and housekeeping, laundry, and food-service workers at San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center.