In July, Good Samaritan Hospital System, which operates Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center in San Jose, announced a new mid-year agreement with the California Nurses Association that included significant wage increases, alternative work schedules and a plan to strengthen nurse staffing throughout the hospital.
This week, nurses at Regional Medical Center rallied outside the hospital, demanding better working conditions and more staffing and complaining about big profits at the Good Samaritan system’s owner, HCA Healthcare.
At the Oct. 25 rally, nurses accused the hospital of violating state-mandated nurse-to-patient rules, putting patients at risk and overworking nurses to the point of burn out.
California is the only state that legally requires hospitals to have a certain number of nurses to patients in every hospital unit. For example, hospitals should provide one nurse for every two patients in intensive care and one nurse for every four patients in emergency rooms.
“But that is not what is happening,” ICU nurse Michelle Lorang said. “We are seeing nurses in the ICU caring for three patients.”
She said short staffing leads to delays in care and poorer outcomes, especially in units where matters of life and death can change within minutes.
It also leads to nurses being overworked and unable to provide proper care to the growing list of patients under nurses’ care, she said. “It's a very scary situation for our patients, and for us.”
She said Regional Medical Center has fewer than 545 registered nurses, a 28 percent decrease from last year, according to data from the California Nurses Association. The nursing shortage mirror problems across the country.
Lorang speculated that half of those who no longer work at the hospital probably left to work at another place with better working conditions.
“Some have left the profession entirely. Some have taken early retirement which might be considering it too. And some have just taken extended leaves to say you know what, I need to take care of myself or my family,” she said.
Violeta Mendoza, a nurse who worked at Regional Medical Center for 40 years before retiring in 2018, said the problems at the hospital have just gotten worse overtime.
“We do not take care of patients the same way when I was young,” Mendoza said. “Now nurses are on computers and not bedside and they have too many things they need to do.”
She said it has created an environment where nurses are rushing to make sure that the essentials are taken care of and skipping rest and meal breaks in order to make it happen.
“But then they get in trouble for not taking breaks,” Mendoza said.
Linda Vences, a nurse at Regional Medical Center for two decades, said management has been disciplining nurses who fail to take their breaks.
“No nurse should be forced into having to decide whether to remain at the bedside and face discipline,” she said.
The problem, in her opinion: corporate greed.
“People are tired, but if contracts were followed appropriately, and people were paid appropriately, there would be more nurses at the bedside,” she said.
Vences said working conditions are especially disheartening because the hospital’s owner, HCA Healthcare, is the biggest hospital system in the U.S.. HCA Healthcare reported more than $3.7 billion in profits in 2020, a 7% increase over 2019, according to a nurses’ union, National Nurses United.
“We heard about the federal money on the news but we definitely didn't see it,” Lorang said. “We didn't see it in direct care patient equipment or protective gear for our nurses.”
Despite the summer contract agreement, Lorang claimed that nurses at Regional Medical Center did not get any raises or bonus pays during the pandemic.
“We have a lot of very tired and sad nurses,” she said. “We became nurses to care for people and that's who we are inside. But we can't do it in the current conditions -- at least not to the standard that lets our hearts and our souls rest.”
Regional Medical Center did not respond to requests for comment.
Jana Kadah is a reporter with Bay City News.