Health care workers frustrated by lack of access to hospitals’ top exec

Providence St. Joseph top exec tours hospitals; employees say understaffing issues persist

Providence St. Joseph CEO Dr. Rod Hochman was in Humboldt County on Wednesday visiting the two local hospitals that are part of the chain. Local health care workers voiced frustration over a lack of access to the top executive, stating they wanted to discuss understaffing. (Shaun Walker — Times-Standard file)
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The CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health, Dr. Rod Hochman, was in Eureka on Wednesday to visit the local facilities and speak to hospital leaders.

But health care workers and nurses are voicing frustration that the leader of the chain of 51 hospitals, including two in Humboldt County did not have time to visit with staff.

Hochman

“What (union members) have attempted to do is dialogue with the hospital around how the chronic understaffing has undermined patient care at St. Joe’s Eureka and Redwood Memorial,” said National Union of Healthcare Workers organizer Renee Saucedo on Wednesday. “Our members requested a meeting with the Providence St Joseph CEO and the hospital didn’t even try to accommodate us.”

Hospital spokesman Christian Hill said Hochman had “a full-slated day of events” that included meeting with the hospital “managers and directors.”

“Dr. Hochman is here to talk to folks at the hospital,” Hill said.

Saucedo said health care workers “got a door slammed on our nose” at a town hall meeting.

Hill said the full schedule meant it was “not the most advantageous time” for staff to meet with the hospital’s top executive.

Leeann Poli, who works in Redwood Memorial’s janitorial department, wanted to speak to Hochman about understaffing. She said it was the most problematic part of her job because only four of the nine positions were staffed at the Fortuna hospital. A key portion of her job involves scrubbing floors.

“Some work is not getting done at all,” she said. “I haven’t been able to get through some of the floors in five months. …  I am responsible for all floors, ER rooms, ORs. Maybe once every two weeks I am getting part of the hallways scrubbed.”

She said while the regular mopping gets done, the work with the mechanized scrubber that does deep cleaning is hard to make time for, even with the overtime she is working.

Poli fears if Providence St. Joseph merges with Adventist Health, as is proposed, “it will get worse.”

Saucedo said the understaffing is a critical issue for the estimated 500 workers represented locally by the union. In October 2018, the hospital laid off 25 workers. In January, hospital workers rallied after two more positions were cut. 

“There have a been a couple of layoffs since then,” Saucedo said Wednesday. “One of our concerns is since it looks like Providence St. Joseph will merge with Adventist Health, we are extremely concerned there will be more downsizing and this will have an even more devastating impact on patient care.”

Hochman’s visit did not provide any opportunities to interact with the local media. After his visit, a comment was provided by Hill about the visit.

“Humboldt County is the birthplace of St. Joseph Health, which is part of a comprehensive health system that now spans seven western states,” said Hochman in a prepared statement. “I’m impressed by the level of care the team is delivering in this beautiful yet remote region of Northern California. It’s clear our caregivers are playing a vital role in meeting the needs of this community and I’m grateful for their dedication to our mission.”

He made no comments about understaffing issues that hospital workers say persist, although the statement from the hospital maintains it meets required staffing levels.

“We ensure our staffing levels meet or exceed all federal and local requirements, and we work closely with the leaders of each unit to make sure staffing levels are always appropriate,” the statement said.

Lesley Ester, a registered nurse at St. Joseph Hospital and union representative for the California Nurses Association, expressed frustration about the visit.

“I’m surprised it wasn’t announced more widely,” she said. “And I am very disappointed they didn’t take the opportunity to engage with front-line staff.”

She also reiterated the staffing frustrations.

“The disappointment for us, the 450 nurses at that hospital, have been for the last year really advocating the hospital follow the state law and staff by acuity,” Ester said. “Today, we were again understaffed during his visit. We’re just asking management to hear us.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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