South Florida union members say low staff levels put patients at risk
Caregivers in South Florida have warned that patients are at risk due to "unacceptable" staffing numbers, as they negotiate with one of the state's largest healthcare providers for better working conditions.
Union members gathered at rallies across Florida last week, calling for what they call safe staffing levels, increased pay and better protections to help recruit and retain experienced workers.
The state’s largest union of healthcare workers, the 1199SEIU (Service Employees International Union) United Healthcare Workers East, organized the events in cities including Loxahatchee, in Palm Beach County, and Margate, in Broward.
The actions came ahead of a meeting with HCA Healthcare due to take place today, part of a negotiation process that could stretch over a number of months. The company said it "strongly" disagrees with the allegations.
In Margate, about 30 employees rallied on May 11 near the entrance to the Florida Northwest Hospital. Their purple shirts read, “Respect Us. Protect Us. Pay Us."
Some employees told WLRN they worry that a patient will fall if they get up to use a bathroom, because caregivers are tied up helping another patient on the other end of the hall.
"Turning the patients in bed are delayed, patient care is delayed," said Jacquelyn Saunders, a patient care technician, or PCT, at the Margate rally. "Quality is delayed. So it's a major issue and it's unacceptable."
"How can you turn a patient every two hours when you're one PCT on the floor, caring for 14 patients? And the nurses also get short staffed. The patients medication is delayed."
The union says workers who earn the lowest include those in hospital food service or environmental services, which involves sanitation.
"We're coming off of two years of COVID, where these workers were potentially taking it home to their families," said Nick Kojkowski, a lead organizer with the union. "They were working insane hours. Everybody was pitching in, doing what they had to do, and now we're just asking to be recognized and to get our cut. Those two years, HCA made billions of dollars of profit on the backs of these workers."
HCA denied the union’s claims, and wrote to WLRN that these protests tend to take place during collective bargaining to get attention.
"During those negotiations, our goal is the same: to secure a fair agreement that continues to support a culture of colleague safety, care excellence and compassion," the statement read. "We strongly disagree with SEIU’s allegations. Our staffing is safe, appropriate, and in line with other community hospitals and applicable regulations."
Doctors have complained against the company, too. That led U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to co-sign a letter to HCA in February, after doctors told NBC News that a Pasco County hospital had roaches in the operating room, repeated complaints of poor care and unsanitary facilities.
HCA Healthcare is meeting with employees of its Florida Northwest Hospital on Tuesday, May 16.