Four hundred healthcare workers and other advocates assembled in front of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center on Wednesday, Oct. 19, in a protest against the hospital’s refusal to recognize a vote to join the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers (SEIU-UHW) West, one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the western United States.
The union would allow hospital workers to have a more direct say in improving the quality of patient care, but even though the vote to join passed 531-458 in January, the workers have not been approved to join the union.
“I urge Pomona Valley Hospital to honor the democratic vote of its employees and not delay the process further,” U.S. Representative Norma Torres wrote in the union’s press release. “This hospital plays such an important role in the community, and it’s critical that employees and administration work together to strengthen patient care.”
According to the hospital’s media statement, “the vote was undetermined because…there were 214 challenged ballots. [This number] is sufficient to affect the election’s outcome.”
The hospital said the National Labor Relations Board’s hearing officer agreed to count 62 of the challenged ballots, but the hospital is still awaiting a decision from the board’s regional director on the remaining 152 ballots.
In light of the demonstration, Pomona Valley Hospital noted in its media statement that “it is important to us that all of our associates’ voices are heard on such a critical matter. […] One of our greatest hallmarks has been and continues to be the ability to attract and retain the finest health care employees. This is a result of the value, respect and commitment we have for those who choose our hospital as their employer of choice.”
Workers argue that hospital officials care more about their profits and executive pay than their workers or providing quality healthcare to patients.
According to the press release, the hospital makes tens of millions of dollars in profits by charging high prices–nearly $21,000 for a patient’s overnight stay, $9,000 more than average hospitals across the state.
CEO of Pomona Valley Richard Yochum earns $1.7 million a year, marking the fifth-highest salary among 67 non-profit hospital CEOs in California.
“While the CEO and other executives make millions, caregivers are understaffed and overworked, which puts our patients and us at risk,” Pomona Valley phlebotomist Jeanette Castillo said in the press release. “Patients should be safe, and caregivers should know they have the resources to provide the best care. What the hospital is doing is wrong.”
This is not the first time Pomona Valley workers have expressed work-related grievances. According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, in 2015, licensed vocational nurses were so upset about the hospital needing them to pay their own insurance costs that they wanted to hold a demonstration and fight for labor contract negotiations.
According to a recent press release by SEIU-UHW, Pomona Valley workers claimed they were exposed to a highly infectious patient put in the same room as a non-infected patient in April 2016. They were not tested for possible exposure for four months.
According to the press release, hospital officials have frequently shut down parts of the emergency department to maintain staff ratios, a practice that ends up leaving patients in the hallway.
Just a 10-minute car ride from the Claremont Colleges, Pomona Valley is one of two hospitals that provide emergency medical care to 5C students. Stan Skipworth, director of campus safety, said that Pomona Valley is usually where students in need of emergency medical care are sent.
Scripps College Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson wrote in an email to TSL that most Scripps students requiring emergency care are transported to Pomona, but declined to comment on the hospital’s labor negotiations.
However, the school remains committed to providing students access to medical care.
“In medical emergencies, our primary concern is that students quickly receive the medical attention they need and we defer to the medical experts to determine the specific care, as well as the specific provider,” Johnson wrote. “Medical personnel on the scene determine which hospital to which a student is sent.”
One 5C student, who requested anonymity out of concern that the student’s remarks could compromise healthcare quality, wrote in a TSL survey that they have not had favorable experiences at Pomona Valley.
“I have been hospitalized there on numerous occasions,” the student wrote. “In life-threatening situations, their care is OK, but for more minor emergencies, they are extremely demeaning towards college students.”
Ariel So SC ’20 previously served as TSL’s editor-in-chief.