About 1,800 nurses and frontline healthcare workers across four Southern California Prime Healthcare facilities have launched a five-day strike to fix what they say are unsafe working and patient care conditions caused by short-staffing affecting the healthcare industry.

Workers from United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) are planning to strike from Oct. 9 to Oct. 14 at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center, and Encino Hospital Medical Center.

The strike comes just days after thousands of Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers in Southern California ended a three-day strike.

“Staffing has been so critically low that many caregivers have left,” said Bernie Espinoza, an ultrasound tech at Prime Garden Grove Hospital. “The remaining workers are stretched thin and rushed. We’re forced to take on more patients with less staff, which leaves much less time for quality one-on-one patient care.”

Prime Healthcare operates healthcare facilities in 14 states nationwide.
According to spokesperson Elizabeth Nikels, the company has put forth resources and nationwide strategies to recruit and retain talented professionals.

“We have implemented processes to expedite hiring timelines, placing highly-trained, skilled staff in positions to advance our mission and care for patients in the safest way possible,” she said in a statement.

Workers share their experiences

Among striking workers are licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, emergency room, radiology, and respiratory techs. They say staff turnover has increased by 50% from 2020 to 2022, despite the national average being less than half.

Jesus Amarillas has been a registered emergency room nurse at St. Francis Medical Center for 30 years. He noticed a change in his working conditions during the pandemic, and then when the hospital was acquired by Prime Healthcare.

“We don’t have anybody to come and give you a break, or if you get really sick patients, a lot of times you don’t have other nurses to come and help you,” Amarillas said.

He added that while health care workers are burdened by the lack of staff, it’s patients who will feel the brunt.

“If we don’t have enough staff, if we don’t have enough safety ratios, then the patients are the ones who are going to suffer the most,” he said.

Ultrasound technologist Mayra Castaneda has worked at St. Francis Medical Center for the last 25 years and said she has struggled with the long shifts that can see up to 20-hour days in order to keep the hospital up and running. Even so, she said it’s common to send patients to other facilities because of staffing shortages.

“We’re tired and these caregivers are tired. The patients can see the decline in the type of care that we provide,” Castaneda said. “We just want Prime to bargain in good faith.”

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