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Hospital union decries staffing at Memorial and Petaluma Valley

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents about 800 medical workers at Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, has released a scathing report that accused the two Sonoma County facilities of poor patient care caused by inadequate staffing.

The report, which is partially based on state inspection records, found, among other things, that the two hospitals operated by St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County had 10 times as many violations of quality of care and medical treatment standards than either Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center or Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

St. Joseph Health officials dismissed the report as a union tactic aimed at gaining leverage in current contract negotiations between the hospitals and NUHW workers. Officials said the union is skewing its findings by lumping both hospitals together and not taking into account the role Memorial Hospital plays as the region’s only Level II Trauma Center caring for the area’s most medically complex patients.

The union represents licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, unit secretaries and telemetry technicians.

Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW, said the union is making a public case for increased staffing because the health care system refuses to listen to workers’ complaints.

“They dismissed them, refused to listen to workers,” Rosselli said. “We’re going to the community, to the consumer, to get support in forcing the hospitals to hire more staff.”

The report, titled “Falling Behind,” also found Memorial Hospital recorded 484 deficiencies, state enforcement actions, complaints and self-reported incidents from 2011 to 2015, while Petaluma Valley logged 90. Meanwhile, Kaiser and Sutter saw 110 and 85 “regulatory incidents,” respectively, the union said.

Todd Salnas, president of St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, said the union report aggregated “reported events” that occurred at 22 different locations providing numerous medical services under the two St. Joseph hospital licenses. Only 11 percent of the reported events were substantiated, he said.

The union said many of the complaints investigated by the California Department of Public Health dealt with violations of patient-to-staff ratios, or failing to provide adequate staff for higher patient acuity, a measure of the level of nursing care required by a patient. The report also included a survey of NUHW nursing personnel that suggested a majority of those workers at Memorial and Petaluma Valley believe they are inadequately staffed and patient care suffers as a result.

“Patients will soil their beds waiting for a nurse or care partner, someone to come help them,” Susan Daly, a licensed vocational nurse who works at Memorial Hospital’s neuroscience floor, said in an interview.

Daly said the hospital is “low” on nursing assistants, who sometimes have anywhere from eight to 20 patients to care for during their eight-hour shift. Duties include cleaning patients, making their beds, taking patients to the bathroom, helping them walk and feeding those who require assistance.

Daly, a union steward who is part of NUHW’s negotiating team, said inadequate staff hinders the level of care a patient receives.

“We’re not able to get to know our patients, who they are and what their needs are,” she said.

None of the staffing complaints occurred in 2015, Salnas said, rejecting claims St. Joseph was providing inadequate patient care. In a statement, Salnas said everyone at St. Joseph, from administrators to medical staff, “works extremely hard every day to provide great care to our community.”

Salnas said St. Joseph strives to create a safe environment for patients.

“We’re proud of our track record of patient safety and stellar care, which is reflected in the local and national awards and recognitions we receive on an annual basis,” said Salnas.

St. Joseph questioned the union’s methodology in arriving at a “scorecard” for violations and complaints.

“We self-report every complaint even though this is not a requirement,” said St. Joseph spokeswoman Vanessa DeGier, adding that of the 484 complaints cited by NUHW, 187 were self-reported.

“As this is not standard across all hospitals in California, it would be erroneous to draw any conclusions when comparing this figure,” she said.

NUHW has been negotiating with St. Joseph since June 2015. It is the first labor contract NUHW is negotiating at Petaluma Valley and the second at Memorial Hospital.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin?Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.?espinoza@pressdemocrat.com?On Twitter @renofish.

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