Tenet workers protest as corporation celebrates big pandemic profits

May 7th, 2021

On May 6, Tenet Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, hosted its annual shareholders meeting touting its soaring stock price and healthy operating profit during the pandemic

Several hours later, more than 150 NUHW members from three Tenet hospitals, along with nearly two-dozen community allies, gathered outside Tenet’s largest medical center in Orange County to reveal the hidden costs of Tenet’s pandemic profits: Understaffed and unsafe hospitals and underpaid workers, many of whom have had to fight on the frontlines against COVID without health insurance.

“If there’s one thing this past year has taught us, it’s that this hospital exists because of us, not because of them,” Connie Montesano, a lab technician at Fountain Valley Regional, said during a rally that was covered by the Los Angeles Times and Voice of OC. Becker’s Hospital Review and Fierce Healthcare also reported on the protest.

While Tenet reported a $399 million profit in 2020 and handed out six-figure pandemic bonuses to two top executives, Fountain Valley Regional was cited by the California Department of Public Health last year for “systemic” infection control violations — including placing an adult COVID patient in a pediatric unit — that put both caregivers and patients at increased risk for contracting COVID-19.

“These profits are not helping workers or patients,” said Christina Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. “They’re being made at the expense of patient care and of the people who have put their health on the line to help people during this pandemic. At the height of the surge, I would go home crying that we didn’t have enough staff to help patients struggling to survive. We don’t need more executive bonuses, we need safely staffed hospitals.”

Since Tenet forbids workers from speaking at its annual shareholders meetings, NUHW members from Los Alamitos Medical Center and Lakewood Medical Center joined their colleagues at Fountain Valley to share the struggles they have faced working at Tenet hospitals. Several speakers included housekeepers and dietary workers whose jobs are subcontracted to Compass, an international staffing firm that pays far less than Tenet and charges far more for health coverage, leaving many of them without any insurance during a pandemic.

“I have to travel to Tijuana just to see a doctor that I can afford,” said Tomasa Miguel, a housekeeper, who has cleaned COVID units at Tenet-owned Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. “They call us healthcare heroes, but we can’t afford health care for our families.”

Johnenfer Larry, a housekeeper at Lakewood Medical Center, nearly exhausted her savings after contracting COVID. The virus also spread to her two children and her grandparents, who watched her children while she worked. Her grandfather ultimately died of COVID.

“I could not go to help him get admitted to the emergency room because I was still under quarantine,” she said. “I never got a chance to say goodbye.”

Larry, who did not have health insurance when she contracted COVID last year, said that PPE was often hard to come by for housekeepers even though they were cleaning the rooms of COVID patients and that many of her colleagues also contracted the virus.

“I just want to feel equal,” Larry told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m just as important as the doctor or the nurse or the X-ray tech — I want to feel like we’re family.”