Attorney General, please end retaliation against Nurse whistleblowers!

Attorney General, please end retaliation against Nurse whistleblowers!

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Dear Attorney General Becerra:

Nurses, Licensed Healthcare Professionals and community supporters want to alert your office to harsh retaliation against whistleblowers who’ve protested dangerous patient safety, workplace safety and labor violations at Riverside Community Hospital, Los Robles Regional Medical Center and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center—all three owned by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). Hospital staff have used every tool at their disposal—internal hospital incident reports, reports to supervisors and higher level management representatives, “assignment despite objection” forms, refusing unsafe assignments, calls and official complaints to enforcing agencies like CDPH, Cal/OSHA and others, and finally a 10-day strike to call attention to staffing issues causing patient safety issues.

HCA is in an amazingly good financial position. Not only did they receive more than $5 billion in federal bailout money, they just reported that their Q2 profit jumped up 38% to $1.1 billion during the toughest quarter of pandemic. Their CEO stated that it was “possibly the most remarkable” quarter he's experienced in his 37 years with HCA.

Despite their enviable financial position, these hospitals are using the pandemic as an excuse to cut dangerous corners in patient care and understaff their units despite able workers available. This is an abuse of public trust.

Here are the issues employees have blown the whistle on…

Unsafe staffing:

  • More patient assignments per Registered Nurse than legally allowed under California’s Title 22 Regulations, thereby endangering the health and safety of patients and jeopardizing RN licenses.  In spite of RN objections to the hospitals’ violation of these regulations, the hospitals have not only continued to violate Title 22 Regulations, but have threatened and/or disciplined RNs who have objected to these violations.

Rationing and dangerous recycling of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

  • The hospital continues to deny its RNs sufficient PPE, including forcing re-use of N95s and gowns (which causes cross-contamination with different patients, with other staff and visitors), poorly recycled PPE, malfunctioning or broken PPE.
  • Too many healthcare workers are given only a surgical mask, resulting in high levels of infection and even death among hospital staff. (There have been two recent staff deaths at Riverside Community Hospital as a result of negligent practices regarding PPE and lack of internal administrative controls as legally required.)

Poor monitoring of COVID-19 infection:

  • COVID-19 patients and suspected COVID-19 patients are carelessly transported through the same hospital areas, which causes cross-contamination and endangers non-infected patients, employees and visitors.
  • Waiting areas for suspected COVID-19 patients are not sufficiently isolated.
  • Surgeries, births and other procedures are often carried out before COVID-19 test results are available.

This whistleblowing resulted in retaliation:

  • At Riverside, the hospital wasted no time retaliating against its Nurses. Within a week of the strike, the hospital violated the Nurses’ Union contract and announced the elimination of the Charge Nurse position throughout the hospital and the creation of a new, non-union position to replace them. Many of the Charge Nurses were among the whistleblowers, alerting their hospitals, regulatory agencies, and the public of numerous Title 22 violations. Over 70 complaints were filed against RCH in 2019, additional ones in 2020 and dozens more at West Hills and Los Robles.  Additional Cal/OSHA complaints have also been filed.
  • The pattern of retaliation started at the beginning of the pandemic. Nurses were threatened with discipline for insisting on wearing masks. Some were suspended for using their social media pages to ask the community for PPE or alerting colleagues that the hospital failed to notify them of exposure risks, as legally required.

We, the petition signers, ask your office to investigate, intervene and remedy these dangerous practices that delay our communities’ recovery from this pandemic.

As the L.A. Times editorial board urged early in the pandemic: “These are extreme times that call for allowing health professionals to speak openly and publicly about what’s going on in their workplaces…in a public health emergency, medical workers have the right to speak out without fear.”

cc: Samuel N. Hazen, CEO, Hospital Corporation of America