Dozens of registered nurses and public health workers with the San Francisco Department of Public Health rallied Thursday, demanding the city increase staffing as the city grapples with two recently confirmed coronavirus cases.
Although the nurses and health workers have been calling on the health department address chronic understaffing for months, the situation appears to have reached a critical level with the rapid spreading of the coronavirus.
Earlier Thursday, city leaders confirmed two cases of coronavirus in the city. Both patients, a man in his 90s and a woman in her 40s, are being treated at local hospitals.
But according to the health workers, San Francisco General Hospital and other Department of Public Health facilities have suffered from chronic understaffing for years.
"We need for the city to realize that if the city is going to be protected, as we're on the verge of the conronavirus hitting us big time, we need to have appropriate and full staffing," said Theresa Rutherford, a nursing assistant at Laguna Honda Hospital and a Service Employees International Union San Francisco vice president.
"SFGH and other DPH facilities are chronically understaffed and have been critically understaffed for years. This is not new. We're not saying this because of the coronavirus, we're saying that the city spent years being irresponsible and not ensuring that there was adequate staffing. And so we're on the verge of a pandemic and we have no proper staffing. We are not ready," she said.
In response to the workers' staffing concerns, Supervisor Ahsha Safai called for a hearing on the matter for Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee.
"These individuals will be putting themselves in harm's way. These individuals will be dealing with our crisis on an hour-to-hour basis. They're the ones who will be keeping San Franciscans safe; they will be keeping San Francisco healthy. But they can't do it if they're overworked," he said.
Although the city regularly hires contract staff and health care workers on a per diem basis, the workers are urging the city to hire more full time registered nurses.
Safai is calling for the city's Human Resources Department to hire nurses at a faster rate, within 30 days. Currently, the process to hire nurses can take up to seven months, Safai said.
During the hearing, Supervisor Hillary Ronen alleged DPH currently has over 1,100 job vacancies, although DPH Human Resources Director Michael Brown couldn't confirm that number.
"We have to make this a number one priority," Safai said. "These are our frontline responders, and if they're already understaffed, they're already overworked, and we're using contract employees we could get into ourselves into a serious crisis, even more than it is now."
"We have to put our heads together to figure out how we can get people hired in 30 days or less into these positions," he said.