- Thousands of healthcare workers in California have gone on strike or plan to strike, CalMatters reported.
- They’re striking over burnout and continued staffing shortages fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
- About a third of California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government last week.
Thousands of healthcare workers in California have gone on strike or plan to strike over continued “critical staffing shortages” at nearly a third of the hospitals in the state.
According to a report from CalMatters, workers at more than two dozen hospitals in California went on strike at some point over the past four months. These workers included engineers, respiratory therapists, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, technicians, janitorial staff, according to the report.
Around a third of hospitals in the state this week reported “critical staffing shortages” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, according to the report. The shortages come amid increased patient demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers’ early retirement over the past year, and other stresses put on the system by the pandemic, CalMatters reported.
Unions that represent healthcare workers told the outlet that the shortages existed before the COVID-19 outbreak nearly two years ago, but said the pressure of the pandemic has pushed the staffing issues to new levels. In addition to concerns over staffing, strikes have also been fueled by disagreements regarding pay, according to the report.
The unions say traveling healthcare staff brought into the state to make up for the shortages get paid more than the full-time staff at the understaffed hospitals.
Members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals recently voted to approve a strike against Kaiser Permanente, CalMatters reported. If negotiations continue to stall between Kaiser Permanente and UNAC/UHCP, 24,000 workers at facilities in over a dozen California cities would strike, according to the report.
The union wants more efforts made to retain staff and address burnout among staff, according to the report. The union says 72% of its members experienced anxiety and burnout and around 45% reported insomnia and depression. About three quarters said hospital staffing was their primary concern, CalMatters reported.
Kaiser has urged employees to avoid a walk out.
“We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them,” Kaiser spokesperson Marc Brown told the Washington Post. “Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”
The problems fueling the tensions in California aren’t unique to the state. The Wyoming News Exchange reported Saturday that 12 hospitals in the state this week reported a critical staffing shortage to the federal government. Four hospitals in the state resorted to crisis standards of care due to shortages, according to the report.
As Insider previously reported, burnout, poor working conditions, and job dissatisfaction have enabled the ongoing nationwide shortage of healthcare workers. A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that hospitals in New York City were understaffed as early as December 2019, months before the city became the US epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The stress of working in a COVID ICU, and all the death that I’ve had to see, altogether, it has really set me back; I’m often very anxious, and angry,” Sarah Chan, a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in New York, told Insider’s Allana Akhtar in September. “So much death weighs heavy on me.”