California workers at 3 HCA hospitals OK potential strike

Registered nurses and licensed medical professionals at three HCA Healthcare hospitals in California have voted to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike, according to the union that represents them.

The vote covers about 2,000 workers at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Los Angeles and Riverside Community Hospital. It does not mean a strike will occur, but it gives SEIU Local 121RN the option of calling a strike if deemed necessary.

Nurses and other healthcare staff report aggressive rationing of personal protective equipment, as well as used, dirty PPE and staff falling ill, the union said in a news release. Other concerns reported by the union include insufficient COVID-19 testing of patients and workers, inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios, and dangerous co-mingling of patients and workers.

"Staff at all three hospitals say that management was alarmingly unprepared for the pandemic. And while these HCA facilities are among the most profitable hospitals in the region, they were also among the least prepared," SEIU Local 121RN wrote. "The hospitals also have high staff infection rates. Two staff members at Riverside Community Hospital have already died, and scores there have fallen ill, spreading the disease to co-workers and possibly otherwise-uninfected patients."

The union and hospital management have been in contract negotiations since July to address issues such as staffing and safety protocols. Negotiations continue, but both sides have not been able to come to an agreement.

HCA Far West Division Communications Manager Antonio Castelan disputed many of the union claims or demands in a statement shared with Becker's, calling them "either untrue, unreasonable or unrealistic."

Mr. Castelan also expressed disappointment about the strike authorization, particularly during the COVID-19 surge.

"The union's actions do not benefit our patients nor the nurses who may lose multiple shifts and wages," he wrote. "We stand by our efforts throughout the pandemic including supplying proper PPE, revised visitor policies and screening measures, as well as enacting team nursing models, nurse bonuses and shift pay. We are grateful for our caring, compassionate team members who continue to deliver high quality care during these challenging times."



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