California health system workers protest, alleging 40 violent incidents in 1 month

From janitors to physicians, workers at Santa Clara (Calif.) Valley Healthcare System allege the health system has unsafe staffing practices that put patients and providers at risk. 

In a joint news release shared with Becker's, three entities — Registered Nurses Professional Association, Valley Physicians Group and SEIU Local 521 — allege that staff are spread thin, with more than 300 vacant nursing roles in the three-hospital health system. Short-staffing threatens care quality and providers' safety, the unions say. 

"Patients have kicked, punched, slapped, spat on us, thrown things at us and verbally abuse[d] us on a daily basis. How are we supposed to take care of them?" said Allan Kamara, RN, vice president of the RNPA. "With over 40 reportable incidents a month in our healthcare system, there are many, many more that go unreported because nurses have become convinced that it does not make a difference."

Santa Clara Valley Healthcare disputes that number. The health system told Becker's the monthly average of reportable incidents to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is 21.75 "for our entire healthcare system."

The health system has come under fire for other unsafe practices in recent months. On Feb. 6, Mercury News reported a state investigation that probed the hospital's policies for suicidal patients. In one case, a suicidal patient left the emergency department, ran to an adjacent building and jumped from a high floor. The patient, 19, returned with critical injuries as a trauma patient. 

The 731-bed hospital was deemed "[unable] to ensure patient safety and quality of care" by the state's report. 

Santa Clara Valley Healthcare did not respond to Becker's when asked how the health system is protecting its workers. On Feb. 22, those workers rallied outside the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to advocate for change. 

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