Fired Prime hospital nurses call for reinstatement

Four registered nurses and five other healthcare workers, who were fired from Prime Healthcare's St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Calif., are seeking reinstatement.

A website dedicated to their effort states that two St. Francis nurses were fired in December for "purportedly 'trespassing'" during a petition delivery and rally at Ontario, Calif.-based Prime's corporate headquarters, where they raised concerns about what they said is significant understaffing, patient safety and other issues. Seven additional employees were subsequently fired for participating in the rally, according to the website. Hospital officials disagree about the reasoning behind the terminations.

Gloria Allred, a social justice lawyer, announced Jan. 12 that she is taking up the matter, according to a news release shared with Becker's from United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. The union represents four of the terminated workers. The remaining terminated workers are represented by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.

The workers — dubbed the Prime 9 by union officials — also plan to attend the Lynwood City Council meeting on Jan. 16 and are urging the council to pass a resolution calling on hospital officials to reinstate the workers.  

"Prime owns these hospitals like St. Francis in communities of color, marginalized areas," Charmaine Morales, RN, president of UNAC/UHCP, said in the release. 

"They had passionate nurses and caregivers trying to be a voice for patients and Prime terminated them. They do not respect or value the healthcare professions. Those skill sets and years of experience are hard to replace. Anyone in [Los Angeles] could end up at St. Francis if we get into an accident on the freeway — it's a level 2 trauma center. Prime showed a blatant disregard to the community. It's the most extreme offense they could commit against the health and safety of their own patients."

St. Francis defended its actions in a statement shared with Becker's, saying that it supports the rights of workers to lawfully engage in informational picketing and did not take adverse action against its employees for doing so. 

"These employees were not terminated for raising any concerns regarding patients or patient safety, but rather for violations of hospital policy, which were reported and fully investigated, including abusive misconduct and trespassing," hospital officials said. 

"St. Francis will vigorously defend the lawsuit and continue to ensure the hospital is a safe and compassionate environment for all patients and staff and continues its award-winning dedication to social responsibility and health equity as recognized by the Lown Institute."

Additionally, the hospital pointed to what it said was increased hiring and its national patient safety and quality awards, including an "A" rating in patient safety from the Lown Institute and the Gold Plus Performance Achievement Award from American Heart Association last year. 

The call for reinstatement by union members follows an October strike by UNAC/UHCP and SEIU-UHW-represented workers at St. Francis. UNAC/UHCP members have since approved a new labor contract with St. Francis. SEIU-UHW is still in negotiations for a new labor contract. 

"The recent strike exacerbated staffing challenges, but nonetheless, the hospital continued to provide quality care throughout and remains dedicated to the needs of the community, expanding services such as behavioral health, geriatric emergency care, thrombectomy-capable stroke care and OB emergency services," St. Francis said. 

"The hospital has since received accolades and commendation from elected officials, including 'Champion of the Year' award by the City of Lynwood. In addition, St. Francis has garnered clinical excellence recognition from national organizations including the American Heart Association."

UNAC/UHCP said it has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging retaliation for protected union activity against Prime with the National Labor Relations Board.

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