Laguna Honda Hospital staff walk out in protest of 'continuous' staffing shortages

Photos: Molly Forster/Hoodline
By Molly Forster - Published on September 13, 2018.

Roughly 40 employees of Forest Hill's Laguna Honda Hospital walked out on their shifts on Wednesday morning to protest what they say is a dire staffing shortage. 

“There’s so many people doing overtime that they’re even capping out on their overtime,” said Valoria Russel-Benson, a certified nursing assistant at Laguna Honda who participated in yesterday's protest.

Nurses and hospital staff were joined at the protest by organizers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They said they are unable to give patients the care they need, because the facility is constantly understaffed and employees are overworked. 

“If someone is so overworked and over-exhausted, how can they possibly do a good job for the residents?” Russel-Benson, an SEIU member, said.

Laguna Honda, which is owned by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), has a history that dates to the mid-1800s, when it served as a refuge of last resort for chronically ill or impoverished Gold Rush pioneers. Today, it serves as a nursing and rehabilitation center for some 780 seniors and adults with disabilities.

Rachel Kagan, director of communications for SFDPH, disputed the claims of the protesting staff. “We don’t see this issue the same way the union sees it,” she said. “We don’t see a staffing shortage.” 

Employees said the staffing shortage has been an issue for about a year now, and that temporary workers hired by the health department to fill the gap have done little to address the long-term issues. 

“It is a continuous revolving door of temp workers,” said SEIU field director David Canham. “We want full-time city jobs so that we can have continuative care, which is a safer and more reliable way of staffing."

SFDPH's Kagan would not confirm whether Laguna Honda employs temporary workers.

“Our system does have temporary workers that are thrown in from time to time,” she said. “I’d have to double-check with the people of Laguna Honda, and I’m not going to do that.”

Employees said the staffing shortage is causing problems for staff and patients alike. 

“In some ways, we feel like even though we are not management, we are running the units," said licensed vocational nurse Negaci Nebyat, who participated in the protest. "We are pulling together to make sure our residents don’t suffer the consequences."

Laguna Honda is home to many patients with serious mental health and behavioral issues, and protesting staff expressed concerns about being unable to tend to their needs.

“This population needs a lot of people interaction,” said registered nurse Elizabeth Saiz, who has worked at the hospital for 28 years. 

“All day, we’re scrambling to find the time to do it, and it is really not fair to these people.”

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