From kicks to punches, healthcare workers at hospitals in San Francisco and the East Bay are demanding more security at the workplace.
“I got hit in the ear, which found out I had bleeding in my ear when I went to doctor,” said Ariel Edwards, a certified nursing assistant at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro. “One of my co-workers recently just got socked in the eye had black-eye, a woman, most of the time it’s a lot of women who get hit.”
Edwards said she has worked at Fairmont for 13 years and has never felt protected by the hospital. Her colleague, Charise Johnson, also a certified nursing assistant at Fairmont, said she’d been traumatized by a patient in June of 2010 who kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with twin boys.
“Not a day goes by that an incident doesn’t happen,not only to staff members but patient-on-patient violence as well,” said Johnson.
Edwards and Johnson joined a group of about two dozen healthcare workers protesting outside Highland Hospital in Oakland Friday morning, organized by SEIU Local 1021, which represents healthcare workers from social workers to cooks.
The protest targeted San Francisco General Hospital and Alameda Health System, which oversees clinics and three East Bay hospitals: Highland in Oakland, John George Psychiatric in San Leandro, and Fairmont, also in San Leandro.
The workers said all the sites need more security measures, from security guards to cameras to advanced safety training.
“It’s never been good, but it’s gotten worse,” said Lorraine Thiebaud, a registered nurse at SF General for more than 30 years. “We have had fewer security guards even though we’ve had major incidents.”
Rachael Kagan, a spokesperson for SF General Hospital, said that an independent report conducted by UCSF and completed in March concluded there was no problem with security staffing. She also said the regular business practices have prioritized safety at San Francisco’s only trauma center, psychiatric emergency room and at the busiest medical emergency room in the city.
Kagan said sheriff’s deputies stationed at SF General undergo special training on how to work with problematic patients, the psychiatric center staff has an additional layer of training, and there’s an anti-violence task force dedicated to analyzing what needs to take place to improve safety measures.
Vintage Foster, spokesperson for Alameda Health System, provided numbers that showed a big spike in the number of patient attacks on employees from 40 in 2011 to 79 in 2012, and then a slight drop to 74 in 2013. Foster said in the last year, AHS has hired more security personnel, increased safety training, and implemented a system of “wanding” and scanning in the trauma and emergency areas.
This is happening as the healthcare workers continue contract talks with the hospitals. In fact, the contracts for registered nurses at SF General, Fairmont, John George and Highland hospitals expired on Friday – the same day as the union-organized protest.
Edwards said that the concerns came well before negotiations and wants to see a change – a workplace where she feels safe.
“Help the staff so we [can] be able to provide for our patients, to give quality care,” said Edwards, wiping away tears. “It’s sad when you have nobody to turn to.”