Hundreds of Nurses and Allies Picket St. Francis Medical Center in Fight for Safe Care
Hundreds of registered nurses and support staff from St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, CA, joined an informational picket in front of the hospital on August 29 to protest chronic short staffing and other unsafe patient care practices.
“It doesn’t matter where you live. If you’re driving down the 105 or 605 and you’re in an accident, this is your hospital. This is where you will be coming,” said Scott Byington, RN, president of the St. Francis Registered Nurses Association (SFRNA), an affiliate of UNAC/UHCP. “But sometimes our whole ER has to function with only five nurses.”
St. Francis, owned by Prime Healthcare, is one of the busiest hospitals in Los Angeles County, with the only level 2 trauma, stroke, and STEMI (heart attack response) centers for many miles around. Byington is a mobile critical care nurse in the hospital, which means he’s part of a crew that responds to trauma emergencies throughout the hospital.
“Even when they only have five nurses in the department and all the surrounding emergency room departments are closed due to saturation, Prime Healthcare corporate keeps us open,” Byington continued. “We’ve had poor outcomes because of that. People have died.
“If we closed like all the other facilities, then the patients would be shared evenly so the care is distributed. Instead, we get bombarded. Sometimes the ambulances wait four to six hours to get the patients into the main ER. It’s very dangerous to the community.”
Prime Healthcare bought SFMC through bankruptcy in 2020, terminated 20% of the experienced RNs, cut RN pay by 12%, and instituted a three-year wage freeze—during the pandemic, even as RNs risked their lives every day with inadequate PPE. RN turnover since Prime took control has been over 50%.
“The short staffing is severe and it’s only getting worse,” said Mayra Castaneda, an ultrasound tech at St. Francis and executive board member for the hospital with SEIU-UHW. “The patients are hurting, the nurses, the techs, the entire hospital. Just recently we had to divert patients and ambulances to other hospitals because we didn’t have the staffing in the emergency room, we didn’t have the staffing in ICU.”
The RNs at St. Francis have filed more than 6,000 staffing objection forms with California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) just since June of this year. Each of those objections represents an instance when a unit and shift were short staffed in violation of California’s Title XXII safe nurse-to-patient ratio regulations.
“They make short staffing a standard of care here, and it’s just really sad for the community,” said Byington. “Many times, California Department of Public Health has been here. They acknowledge our complaint, they say yes, you’re right, and they haven’t done anything. So Prime Healthcare corporate needs to protect this community. They wanted this hospital, they made it for-profit, and our community needs better staffing than they provide.”
The St. Francis RNs represented by UNAC/UHCP, and the ancillary and technical staff represented by SEIU-UHW are in separate negotiations with Prime right now for new contracts at St. Francis. The RNs’ contract prior to the bankruptcy set standards for patient care and wages among nurse union contracts in the region and the country. In 2020 a bankruptcy judge forced a substandard contract on the RNs, which Prime in negotiations seems determined to maintain.
Prime has rejected every proposal for safer patient care nurses have made at the bargaining table: a commitment to follow Title XXII’s nurse-to-patient ratios; training for new nurses before they’re assigned to critical care units like ICU and ER, rather than after they’ve been thrown into these challenging assignments—Prime’s current practice; rules for how nurses float (take a temporary assignment) to units for which they haven’t been trained.
Both unions are speaking out to alert the public—and hoping to turn negotiations around before management’s stonewalling forces a strike.
“We are not going to back down,” Charmaine Morales, RN, UNAC/UHCP President, addressed the crowd. “We said enough is enough and we mean it. Enough is enough. For the sake of patients and the community, We need safe staffing. It is unacceptable what is happening in this hospital. Shame on Prime.”
Lynwood City Council members Jose Luis Solache and Juan Munoz-Guevar, and Mark J. Gonzalez, Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair, also joined the rally in support of the workers.
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UNAC/UHCP also continues to fight for safe care on behalf of patients and registered nurses at our other Prime facilities: