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Tenet Workers Protest at Shareholders' Annual Meeting

Analysis  |  By John Commins  
   May 10, 2021

The NUHW staged the protest to expose what it said were systemic safety issues affecting patients and staff at Fountain Valley.

Investors attending Tenet Healthcare's annual shareholders meeting at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital were met by picketing workers from the for-profit hospital chain who were protesting staff shortages, poor pay, and unsafe working conditions.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers staged the protest on Thursday to expose what it said were systemic safety issues affecting patients and staff at the 400-bed, acute care hospital in Orange County, California.

Those safety concerns are ignored -- with many uninsured Tenet workers exposed to COVID -- the union said, even as Tenet recorded $399 million in profits in 2020, saw its stock price more than triple, and rewarded top executives with six-figure bonuses.

Those bonuses came, the NUHW said, despite a 2020 state inspection that found "systemic infection control violations, infection control violations — including placing an adult COVID patient in a pediatric unit — that put both caregivers and patients at increased risk for contracting COVID-19."

The protesters included respiratory therapists, housekeepers, nursing assistants, medical technicians, and kitchen staff. Many of the employees work for Compass, a staffing firm subcontracted by Tenet that the protesters said pays less than Tenet and charges more for health insurance, leaving many workers without coverage during a pandemic.

"I have to travel to Tijuana just to see a doctor that I can afford," Tomasa Miguel, a housekeeper, who has cleaned COVID units at Fountain Valley, said in a NUHW media release.

"They call us healthcare heroes, but we can't afford healthcare for our families," Miguel said.

Tenet issued a statement saying "this matter is not about us."

"It's about a negotiation strictly between the NUHW and the Compass Group, which is a vendor that provides a range of food, laundry and other support services to hospitals," Tenet said. "At all times, our main concern is the safety of our staff, the integrity of our facilities and the best possible outcomes for our patients, and we remain hopeful that the NUHW and Compass will reach a positive outcome at the conclusion of their respective negotiations."

Christina Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley, said Tenet's profits "are not helping workers or patients."

"They're being made at the expense of patient care and the people who have put their health on the line to help patients during this pandemic. At the height of the surge, I would go home crying that we didn't have enough staff to help patients struggling to survive," Rodriguez said. "We don't need more executive bonuses, we need safely staffed hospitals." 

“They call us healthcare heroes, but we can't afford healthcare for our families.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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