Sutter Health‘s service and tech employees plan to protest low staffing levels at eight hospitals, saying they lead to longer wait times and a lack of patient safety.
The workers will set up “danger zones” at each hospital in July to illustrate the dangerous conditions they allege patients and employees face.
The danger zones will include caution tape, orange cones, large signs and caregivers in uniform and PPE giving speeches to draw attention to care delays caused by understaffing, said Tom Parker, senior communications specialist at SEIU-UHW.
Parker said the price increases at healthcare facilities across Northern California, including those owned by Sutter Health, are not justified by the care patients receive.
“Sutter is putting workers like me in a position where I don’t feel like I can give my patients the time and attention that they deserve because they keep cutting staffing over and over again,” said Stefanye Sartain, a respiratory therapist at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, Calif.
Healthcare workers allegedly take on a two-person workload, don’t get lunch breaks on their 12-hour shifts and don’t receive chargeable “points” or credit for performing life-saving procedures, said Sartain, who has worked with Sutter for more than 15 years.
She said Sutter uses a daily count system for employee workloads, where 15 minutes are supposed to amount to one point. What was once the maximum count of 30 points is now the minimum amount, and employees don’t receive points for treating patients who are dying or in a critical status.
Sartain said the hospital doesn’t have EKG technicians working night shifts, and doctors are often unavailable for consults, putting patient safety at risk. The hospital also has queues of ambulances with no nurses to retrieve patients, which lead to longer 911 response times.
“I’m just hoping that Sutter will understand that we want our patient care quality back,” Sartain said. “We want them to quit making everything about the budget and how much money we’re making.”
A Sutter Health spokesperson said in a statement that the health system is disappointed in the rallying action being taken by the union, but will continue to bargain with and support its healthcare workers.
“We remain focused on reaching a shared resolution and continuing to provide safe, compassionate patient care,” the spokesperson said.
Sutter Health did not comment on specific allegations of understaffing or delays in patient care.
SEIU-UHW represents around 3,500 workers at nine Sutter Health facilities across Northern California, including medical assistants, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff, food service workers, certified nursing assistants, radiological technologists and lab technicians.
Hospitals laying off or temporarily suspending employees to reduce operating costs during the pandemic has led non-salaried workers that help facilities operate to advocate for themselves in earnest, said Paul Keckley, a healthcare analyst.
Hourly workers are “very conscious of the profitability of hospitals” and the pay gap between C-suite and lower level employees, which they will keep in mind while bargaining for better pay and better hours, he said.
Having to run from patient to patient and not having time to deliver the proper care to sick or injured patients is something that affects the surrounding community of a hospital, Sartain said.
“Eventually something catastrophic is going to happen,” Sartain said. “I don’t know when … but it will if something doesn’t change.”