Temperatures are increasing in the Southland, and so too is hot labor summer.
Hundreds of nurses and supporters of the St. Francis Registered Nurses Association picketed St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood Tuesday morning to protest what they describe in a press release as short staffing at “one of the busiest hospitals in Los Angeles County.” They also joined writers and actors on picket lines as a show of solidarity.
Issues began at the hospital, which the United Nurses Associations of California noted has “the only level 2 trauma, stroke, and STEMI (heart attack response) center for many miles around,” after it was purchased three years ago, the nurses claim.
“Prime Healthcare bought SFMC through bankruptcy in 2020, terminated 20% of the experienced registered nurses, cut RN pay by 12%, and instituted a three-year wage freeze—during the pandemic, even as RNs risked their lives every day with inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment),” the nurses said. “Now the hospital is dangerously understaffed nearly every day on every shift. RN turnover since Prime took control has been over 50%.”
At the time of the acquisition, Prime Healthcare boasted that they would increase the amount of money spent on charity care — providing free or discounted care to patients who need financial help — and spend millions on “community benefit services” over a six-year span.
“Prime Healthcare is honored to continue the legacy of St. Francis Medical Center, an indispensable community partner comprised of committed doctors, nurses, and staff dedicated to saving lives and serving all those in need,” said Dr. Sunny Bhatia, CEO of Region I of Prime Healthcare, in a press release announcing the purchase. “Prime is prepared to lead St. Francis into a bright future and we are grateful for the opportunity along with the support we have received from the community.”
The nurses, however, say it’s the community that suffers most under Prime’s ownership of SFMC.
“They make short staffing a standard of care here,” said Scott Byington, a nurse and president of the SFRNA, “and it’s just really sad for the community.”
In a statement, a SFMC spokesperson pointed out that “since saving the hospital in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Prime has invested” more than $36 million into the hospital.
Hospital ownership “will continue to bargain in good faith” with the union, the spokesperson said, adding that “our goal is move forward together as a united team.”
“We are dedicated to the wellbeing of our patients, and to supporting our staff in their ability to provide expert-level, safe care to every patient we serve,” the statement said.