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RNs, Caregivers Urge New Direction at Palomar Health

California Nurses Association Press Release, 8/10/17

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97% of Palomar Staff Say “No Confidence” in CEO

After a poll of 1,300 hospital employees, who by 97 percent expressed no confidence” in Chief Executive Officer Bob Hemker, Registered Nurses and caregivers at Palomar Health are calling on the Palomar Health Board of Directors for an immediate change in direction at the San Diego County health district.

Palomar RNs and caregivers will present the findings of the poll, taken in late July, at a meeting of the Palomar board Monday night at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s downtown Escondido campus. The employees will urge the board to address what they see as a severe lack of safe staffing, supplies/equipment necessary to provide safe patient care, and high employee turnover.

Among the concerns they voice is an alarming staff turnover, of 42 percent for RNs and 37 percent for caregivers the past four years. RN shortages, they warn, have prompted the hospital to require some operating room RNs to work up to 60 hours a week, which poses a threat to patients due to staff fatigue, and excessive patient loads for Certified Nursing Assistants.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents Palomar RNs.  Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union (CHEU), a CNA affiliate, represents other hospital employees.

Staff members are calling on the district and its management to resolve the patient care issues in bargaining. Current CNA and CHEU contracts expired in June.

“Our CEO and his executives are putting patients at risk. Palomar’s own numbers back up what we have been saying for years, that turnover is high and we cannot retain the staff we need to give safe patient care,” said Palomar RN Sue Phillips. “Unfortunately, the CEO is not prioritizing the patients.”

“Patients expect to have enough caregivers and Registered Nurses to help them heal. However, under CEO Hemker, patient safety is at risk,” said Pacita Balcom, a Certified Nursing Assistant at Palomar. “Palomar Health’s resources must be directed toward patients and those who care for the patients.”

In the staff poll, 97 percent said the CEO had exhibited poor fiscal responsibility, 98 percent say Hemker has not listened to the concerns of the frontline staff in relation to basic patient safety issues; and 98 percent pledged to take a more active role in fighting to save the district “for our patients, ourselves, and our community.”

Palomar Health is a public healthcare district governed by a locally elected Board of Directors who are directly accountable to the community.

In a July 9, 2017 article, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that after prior operating deficits, hospital executives project a $20 million profit on operations this year and will have increased its savings four years in a row. Yet, Hemker refuses to address patient safety and staff retention issues in bargaining, employees say. 

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