Gaby Hernandez is often overwhelmed by her workload.
As a lab assistant at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, she’s watched her department’s staffing drop from three employees to one — one being her.
“I have to draw blood, process it and run it down to the main lab,” the 50-year-old Rosemead resident said. “Sometimes I’ll have one patient waiting, and other times it’ll be 10.”
When that happens, patients who need blood drawn before receiving chemotherapy treatments often have to wait 45 minutes to an hour.
“These people are anxious enough at it is,” Hernandez said. “That just builds up their anxiety even more.”
She and fellow healthcare workers at the medical center plan to stage a picket Thursday, March 16, claiming chronic understaffing is undermining patient care and impacting the hospital’s ability to attract and retain experienced staff.
The rally will be held in front of Hollywood Chalet, an assisted living facility Hollywood Presbyterian owns across the street from the hospital. Employees there also have similar concerns and plan to participate in the rally.
The Hollywood Presbyterian employees — including 747 licensed vocational nurses, medical assistants, respiratory therapists, emergency room workers, lab assistants and housekeepers — are represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.
They say management has ignored their concerns and they are calling on their employer to address the staffing issue through labor negotiations. Their contract expired Dec. 12, 2022.
In a statement released Wednesday, Hollywood Presbyterian said its priority is “to provide our patients safe, high-quality care and value the voice and well-being of our caregivers.”
“We look forward to future discussions and fair negotiations with the union, as we value the dedication and hard work of all CHA HPMC employees, including SEIU-UHW members,” management said.
Elizabeth George, a certified nursing assistant at the medical center, says she’s also overwhelmed.
“I have as many as 12 patients at a time,” George said. We are being stretched thin, rushed and can’t give adequate care.”
The medical center’s employees are asking for increased staffing and wage hikes for all workers, including a $25-an-hour minimum wage. They’re also seeking annual raises tied to the cost of living and continued maintenance of a health benefits package that prioritizes retaining healthcare workers and attracting new ones.
“There is high turnover at Hollywood Presbyterian due to low wages, short-staffing and working conditions,” SEIU-UHW spokeswoman Renee Saldana said.
Alec Levenson, a senior research scientist at the USC Marshall Center for Effective Organizations, said the nation is grappling with an industrywide nursing shortage.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t enough people who want to go into nursing,” he said. “But for the money the healthcare system pays, there aren’t enough people who’ll do it for that.”
A broad concern
Last month, SEIU-UHW-represented workers at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks picketed that facility, also claiming they’re chronically short-staffed and unable to adequately meet patient needs.
And registered nurses at six Southern California hospitals picketed their facilities in January as part of a nationwide call for increased staffing amid a winter surge of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 patients.
Those workers — represented by the California Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United — held protests at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Emanate Health Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance and Community Hospital of San Bernardino, among others.
The issue of chronic understaffing was amplified last month when Kindred hospitals across Southern California held a hiring event to fill openings at hospitals in Los Angeles, Baldwin Park, Brea, La Mirada, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, Santa Ana, West Covina, Gardena and Westminster.
That event was part of a nationwide recruitment effort at the healthcare company’s 60-plus hospitals in 17 states and online.
CHA Health Systems is a Korean biotech company that acquired Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in 2004, establishing the only Korean-owned and operated general hospital in the U.S.