UCSF nurses link workplace violence to hiring freeze

The union representing registered nurses at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center says a hiring freeze announced earlier this year has exacerbated staffing problems and led to an increase in reported instances of workplace violence against workers.

The California Nurses Association — which represents more than 18,000 nurses in the University of California health system and is affiliated with National Nurses United — contends in a Sept. 22 news release that nurses and workers have reported more than 30 incidents of workplace violence at the Parnassus campus alone since UCSF announced a monthslong hiring freeze in May.

Union representatives said nurses are calling on UCSF to ensure patients receive a high standard of care and seek safer conditions in the workplace.

"For months, our attempts to warn management about the consequences of the hiring freeze and short staffing have gone unheeded, and now keeping patients safe too often means putting ourselves in harm's way," CNA-UCSF Chief Nurse Representative Elizabeth Fenchel, RN, said in the release. "The only way to keep patients nurses safe is to staff up our hospitals and clinics, not freeze hiring. We will continue to stand up and speak out until our employer lives up to the values it markets to our community — that means putting the health and safety of our patients and workers before the bottom line."

UCSF Health is standing behind its staffing efforts.

In a statement shared with Becker's, the health system said it implemented a short-term hiring freeze, from May to Aug. 31, 2023, "that intentionally excluded roles critical to delivering safe, high-quality care in compliance with staff-to-patient ratios. UCSF Health staffs our hospitals the way we always have — based on the level of care required and the acuity of our patients' conditions. Nursing ratios are mandated by the state of California, and UCSF prides itself on meeting or exceeding those state-mandated ratios."

The health system also points to its Workplace Violence Prevention program, which it said meets the Violence Prevention in Health Care Standard through the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. 

"In 2022, in partnership with our CNA-represented nurses, we established a jointly managed committee on workplace violence. As a result of these and other efforts, our staff retention rates are higher than the benchmarks for hospitals in both the state and the nation," UCSF Health added. 

The union has planned a public rally for Sept. 26 at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay to voice its concerns.

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