California county, union at odds over ER wait times

Workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., are urging Santa Clara County to address staffing shortages and emergency room wait times at the hospital that it says are seven hours long. But the county, which owns the hospital, is downplaying the ER waits and blaming them on the flu season.

The workers are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 521, which recently held a news conference to voice their concerns.  

Janet Diaz, union local chapter president, said workers have been without a contract for eight months, and the Santa Clara County bargaining team still needs to address understaffing and the hospital's inability to retain staff.

Staffing issues "alone at Valley Medical Center emergency department has plagued our ability to properly serve the needs of our patients," she said during the news conference Feb. 18.

"Patients walking in to seek medical attention [at the ER] wait approximately seven hours before being admitted, the longest wait of all ERs in Santa Clara County. This is unacceptable," said Ms. Diaz.

She urged the county board of supervisors to do everything possible to ensure an agreement is reached that addresses these issues.

The county countered the union's claims in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

It said patients wait an average of 15 minutes to be seen by a physician in the hospital emergency department and attributed a recent increase in ED patient volume to the flu season.

"Due to the busy flu season that is one of the worst in years, there has been a pronounced increase in patients coming to the emergency department, which in turn increases the number of inpatient admissions," the county statement said. "When inpatient admissions increase, there are fewer beds available for admitting new patients. This results in patients being held and cared for by the ED staff and doctors until a bed becomes available. This situation is due to higher inpatient volume as a result of the flu season and is not related to any staffing issues."

The statement also said an upcoming redesign and expansion of the ED will add patient beds. The county said it continues to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement.

 

More articles on human resources:
UMass Memorial-Marlborough nurses ratify labor deal
Hospitals and unions: 7 recent conflicts, agreements
Protesters demand answers on fate of Northern California safety-net hospital

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