Infection, Inadequate Care Plague Local Hospital

Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, a hospital frequently visited by students of The Claremont Colleges, has come under fire for an above average rate of infections and long wait times. (Courtesy of Frank Jr. via Wiki Commons)

When students at The Claremont Colleges require hospital attention, they often visit Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, one of the closest hospitals to campus. However, according to reports from hospital workers and 5C students, the facility suffers from high rates of infection, understaffing, and inadequate care.

In December, workers at PVHMC raised concerns about high rates of infection at the hospital.

In a March 5 letter to Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval and Pomona city councilmembers, Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, a union that supports the workers, wrote that the number of “Pomona Valley Hospital patients acquiring C.diff., an infection which causes severe diarrhea and fever and nausea, has increased three years in a row — from 82 cases in 2014 to 122 cases in 2016.”

PVHMC’s C.diff. rate was worse than the national baseline in 2016, according to a report from the California Department of Public Health.

“C. diff infection can spread from person-to person on contaminated equipment and on the hands of doctors, nurses, other health care providers and visitors,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PVHMC workers proposed a ballot initiative mandating that if PVHMC does not reduce its rates of C.diff. infections to meet national benchmarks, they must increase housekeeping staff by 20 percent until they have kept infection rates down for three consecutive years.

The proposed initiative would also raise minimum wage to $18 for all hospital workers in Pomona.

The Pomona City Council discussed a proposed city ordinance Monday that would place the same requirements on hospitals as the initiative and voted 7-0 to delay further action until the initiative qualifies for the ballot. Signatures for the initiative are due April 30.

PVHMC and another hospital in Pomona, Casa Colina, have publicly opposed the proposed ordinance and initiative.

In a March 5 letter to the city council, Richard Yochum, president and CEO of PVHMC, and Felice Loverso, president and CEO of Casa Colina, wrote that community opposition to the proposed ordinance is “overwhelming.” They added that “the legal flaws within the initiative and ordinance” would enable the hospitals to sue the city if the initiative or ordinance is passed.

In statements, the hospital has also affirmed its commitment to reducing cases of C.diff and maintaining high health standards. According to a March 16 article in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Yochum said that no credible evidence exists of a correlation between reduced infection rates, staffing levels and wage rates for housekeeping staff.

However, several students who spoke to TSL about their experiences as patients at PVHMC reported that they had experienced additional issues, including long wait times in the emergency room and unsatisfactory care.

One 5C student, who requested anonymity to protect the privacy of his medical history, said he experienced wait times of three to four hours on two separate trips to the emergency room last year, despite arriving in an ambulance on his first visit.

The hospital staff also failed to inform him about the potential side effects of a medication administered to him during his second visit, the student said.

In addition, he said some of his medical tests were held up around 3 a.m. because there were no emergency room doctors available to perform the test. Around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., an anesthesiologist came to the emergency room from another section of the hospital to execute the test, he said.

Another student, Laura Gonzalez Merino PO ’19, experienced similar problems at the PVHMC emergency room.

“The night I went to the emergency room they were definitely short on staff,” she wrote in a message to TSL. “There was only one person checking people in, and one doctor ‘pre-examining’ people in a small office by the waiting room.”

“I found that quite strange because having been to the emergency room 10-plus times within the past three years, I have never been ‘pre-examined.’ It seemed that they were trying to treat people outside of the actual rooms to combat the long waiting line or to prioritize admissions into the rooms because of a large number of people,” Gonzalez Merino wrote.

Gonzalez Merino said the waiting time was “by far the most memorable part” of her experience at the emergency room.

“I arrived at the hospital at around 11:30 p.m. to midnight, and I wasn't attended [to] until around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.,” she wrote. “There were a lot of people in the waiting room and they seemed to be only admitting a couple of patients per hour. I ended up leaving at 7 a.m., with the actual treatment taking only 30 to 45 minutes, while my time waiting, whether to be seen or to be released, was around seven to eight hours.”

Similarly, Nina Mueller PO ’19 said that while her visit to the emergency room took a comparatively short total of two to three hours, the emergency room was “very crowded” and wait times were long.

“I felt that I had very little privacy while I was there,” Mueller said. “For example, in the room where I was speaking to a doctor, there were other nurses and doctors walking through the room. It wasn’t its own private room; it had a hallway that connected it to other rooms, I assume, so I felt like I had little privacy when being seen.”

Frank Garcia, a representative for Pomona Valley Hospital, wrote in an email to TSL that while the hospital “cannot comment on general patient statements, we do want people to be assured that our physicians and associates are committed to ensuring that every patient experience results in a positive outcome.”

“Nobody is ever turned away, and the physicians and associates that staff the department work diligently to care for every person,” he added. “Because of this, we can experience situations where people have to wait longer than we’d like. In those instances, our associates work to communicate so that people are informed.”

Not all students have had negative experiences at the hospital, however.

German Rojas PO ’18 said he received quick, efficient treatment during his two trips to the emergency room.

Once, when Rojas received treatment after fainting, he said they “conducted a bunch of tests. I think they did bloodwork and a CT scan. ... I was a bit out of it, but everything again seemed pretty routine. It was pretty quick, I was in and out pretty fast.”

Gonzalez Merino added that when she visited PVHMC for a routine procedure in another section of the hospital, she had a much more positive experience than in the emergency room.

“[That] time they were very considerate about the pain I was in, and considerate of my time. It was like visiting a different hospital,” Gonzalez Merino wrote. “The experience was normal, low wait time and good service, which I guess means amazing these days, given that the standard is so low.”