Good Samaritan nurses in San Jose protest unsafe staffing, COVID-19 risks
Drivers on Samaritan Drive honk in support as nurses protest unsafe staffing and poor working conditions on Monday. Photo by John Bricker.

At war with the hospital.

That’s how a top nurses union leader outside Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose on Monday described a dispute over working conditions at the hospital. Roughly 50 nurses cheered in agreement.

“And by God, we have to win it, because if we don’t win it, we could end up dying taking care of the patients that have (COVID-19),” said Malinda Markowitz, co-president of the California Nurses Association. “This is a matter of life and death.”

Nurses on Monday protested unsafe staffing and poor working conditions at Good Samaritan Hospital, saying they have worsened because of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the closing of Regional Medical Center’s obstetrics department. Maternity patients from Regional Hospital were transferred to Good Samaritan for care.

“If there is no justice, there is no peace,” Markowitz led the crowd in a chant, as cars drove by on Samaritan Drive, honking in support.

Regional Medical Center announced in April plans to close its maternity ward, citing a declining birth rate in San Jose. Hospital officials said the closure is needed because of the low birth rate, but opponents worried the surge in new patients would overwhelm nurses at other hospitals and leave East San Jose without a birthing center.

Lindy Herrera, a registered nurse who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Good Samaritan, said Monday the hospital is so short handed that nurses in the emergency room have missed taking breaks, which violates California Labor Law and the nurses’ contract with the hospital.

“They are constantly trying to short staff every unit so they can make a profit,” she said. “If you don’t have nurses there, they pay less money so then they make more profit.”

Nurse Diana Rossman (left) demands that Good Samaritan stop disciplining nurses for reporting unsafe practices with Nurse John Pasha (center) and Malinda Markowitz, co-president of the California Nurses Association (right). Photo by John Bricker.

Good Samaritan Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Mark Brown told San José Spotlight in May that the decision to close Regional Medical Center’s maternity ward aligned with Good Samaritan’s renovations of its labor and delivery department.

Brown said the move was necessary because nurses could get out of practice at the center’s rate of just two births a day.

“There’s a memory deficit,” Brown told San José Spotlight in May. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s actually safest to do these procedures at a hospital that does these at a high volume rather than a low-volume hospital.”

However, several nurses who work at Good Samaritan are concerned that nurses can’t keep up with a surge in new patients.

Diana Rossman, a registered nurse at Good Samaritan who works with high-risk pregnant mothers, said Brown ignores nurses’ concerns and misrepresents the working conditions at Good Samaritan. “He likes to present to the media that everything’s all under control and that we have what we need,” she said. “And in fact, we don’t.”

Nurses planned Monday’s protest following a June virtual meeting that provided the nurses a platform to raise concerns.

After joining the call more than an hour late, Herrera said Brown responded to concerns about staffing shortages by saying that he always approves appropriate staffing and hung up on 25 nurses on the call.

“We had a bunch of issues that we needed to bring to his attention, and he just hangs up on us,” she said.

Good Samaritan has hired more nurses in labor and delivery the week after the meeting, but registered nurse John Pasha demanded the hospital fix its widespread short staffing.

“We are making a little progress, but it’s not enough,” he said. “These are crumbs that they are giving to us.”

In addition to staffing issues, nurses at Good Samaritan said the management asks them to recycle protective gear, putting them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Rossman said hospital leaders told nurses to recycle N95 masks up to 25 times and rationed PPE gear. She said the hospital is making staffing decisions based on profit, not patient safety.

“We want to protect our patients. We want to protect our community,” Rossman said. “And we’re being asked to do our jobs with our hands tied behind our backs because we’re so short staffed.”

Contact John Bricker at [email protected] or follow him @JohnMichaelBr15 on Twitter.

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