San Jose hospital workers protest chronic short staffing
Health care workers protest chronic short staffing outside of Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose on March 15, 2023. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    “It’s only right, it’s only fair, invest your profits in patient care!”

    Dozens of health care workers echoed the chant as they rallied outside of Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose on Wednesday. Patient care technicians, service workers, X-ray technicians and other hospital support staff said the company overseeing Good Samaritan, HCA Healthcare, is chronically short-staffing its facilities to help it maintain billions in annual profits.

    Workers represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West are currently negotiating a new contract with hospital management and HCA Healthcare, and the chronic staffing shortage is among their top concerns.

    Chokri Bensaid, hospital division director, said HCA Healthcare has yet to acknowledge the chronic staffing issues at Good Samaritan. He declined to share more specific information about the contract proposals made by the union and HCA Healthcare.

    “These negotiations do not take into consideration the struggles that these workers went through in the COVID pandemic,” Bensaid told San Jose Spotlight. “All of their proposals are short of showing appreciation for the workforce that brought us through the most difficult time, at least in my lifetime.”

    The union will hold its next meeting with the health care company in the coming weeks, according to union spokesperson Aaron Dietrich.

    A survey conducted by the union found more than 83% of hospital support staff at Good Samaritan said their departments are understaffed. That same survey found 74% of support staff at the hospital think they have insufficient time to attend to patients, while 66% reported delays or lack of patient care due to a shortage of staff.

    Mary Blackman, who worked at Good Samaritan as a unit clerk from 1993 until her retirement in 2021, said the hospital used to be well-staffed.

    “Over the years, I saw the staffing drop tremendously,” Blackman told San José Spotlight. “It’s almost heartbreaking.”

    She recalled a time in 2018 when her husband was in the hospital recovering from back surgery. Late one evening, while Blackman was at her home in San Leandro, she received a call from the hospital. Her husband had tried to pull himself out of his recovery bed to use the restroom, since none of the nurses were around to answer his call.

    Mary Blackman is a retired unit clerk who worked at Good Samaritan Hospital for decades. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Good Samaritan Hospital has earned 15 patient care violations since 2014, including cases in which there were not enough nurses to care for patients. It’s unlikely that’s because of a shortage of funds. In 2021, HCA Healthcare reported more than $6 billion in profit.

    HCA Healthcare did not directly respond to questions about the staffing issues at Good Samaritan, nor the company’s alleged prioritization of profit over patient well-being. It issued the following statement.

    “At Good Samaritan Hospital, we believe  a strong culture of respect and collaboration among our colleagues is critical to our mission,” said Antonio Castelan, spokesperson for HCA Healthcare. “Labor union negotiations are a part of our operations cycle, conducted every three years. During each renewal period, our goal is the same: to secure a fair agreement that continues to support a culture of colleague safety, care excellence and compassion.

    Good Samaritan is not the only local hospital with disgruntled health care workers. Doctors, nurses and other hospital workers protested outside of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center last month against unsafe work conditions caused by short staffing. Nurses at Good Samaritan also protested last year against dangerous work conditions and a chronic shortage of staff.

    Good Samaritan also came under fire for pandemic-related scandals. In 2021, San José Spotlight reported Good Samaritan gave local school teachers who helped fundraise for the hospital access to COVID-19 vaccines earlier than was allowed by county protocol. The scandal led Santa Clara County to temporarily withhold vaccine doses from Good Samaritan, and CEO Joe DeSchryver ultimately resigned.

    Santa Clara County also issued HCA Healthcare more than $30,000 in fines in 2020 for failing to adequately notify patients of their right to a COVID-19 test, or for failing to test a qualified patient.

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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