Desert Regional nurses demand transparency and public input in negotiations on proposed lease and sale of critical public hospital
RNs call out Desert Healthcare District: “Don’t rush into a deal with Tenet without public input!”
Registered nurses at Desert Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in Palm Springs, Calif. demand the Desert Healthcare District (the district) involve them and the public as the district considers or negotiates contracts regarding either the sale or lease of the public hospital, announced the California Nurses Association.
Nurses are also demanding that any decision on the possible sale of the public hospital be put to voters, who are the true owners of the DRMC. The district hospital is currently leased to Tenet Healthcare, a billion-dollar for-profit private health care corporation.
“Our hospital is a public asset that is owned by our community,” said Cyd Greenhorn, ICU RN. “This is our hospital, and nurses have a vested interest ensuring it will remain to meet the needs of our community for decades to come. Any decision involving a sale of the hospital must go to the hospital owners, the people who live in the Desert Healthcare district.”
- Who: Nurses demand transparency and public input at Desert Healthcare District meeting
- When: Tuesday, Nov. 28 5:00 p.m..
- Where: 41550 Eclectic Street Palm Desert, Calif. 92211
- The district meeting can be accessed online here using password: 355860.
During a district board meeting on Sept. 18, Tenet outlined a proposed extension of its current lease with an option to buy at the end of the lease term. This new lease agreement would begin in 2027, when the current lease ends.
District records indicate negotiations are already underway. District records also suggest a $750-an-hour consultant, paid with taxpayer money, is working on the deal and that the district intends to reach a deal by January of next year.
“The district should not be rushing into a deal with Tenet, which has been a terrible steward of our hospital,” said Caroline Ng’ang’a, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit. “Even as Tenet makes big money, executives have kept staffing to skeletal levels and failed to upkeep the building. Tenet needs to gain nurses’ and workers’ trust by addressing the working conditions and the facility conditions. Equally, it is important for the district to invite and consider the community’s perspective as negotiations are underway.”
Desert Regional Medical Center is a cash cow for Tenet
According to Tenet Healthcare records, Desert Regional Medical Center is its highest earning hospital in California. In 2021, the hospital earned Tenet more than $130 million in profit, and in 2022 more than $77 million in profit. That Tenet was able to make so much money at Desert Regional may be in part to its exceptionally high charge-to-cost ratio, the ratio between a hospital's expenses and what they charge for care. For instance, in 2021, Desert Regional’s charge-to-cost ratio was 1,136 percent: for every $100 dollars of cost, the hospital charged $1,136. This charge-to-cost ratio is far above that year’s national average of 426 percent (or $426 charge for every $100 of cost).
Nurses are deeply concerned about the persistent patient safety problems at Desert Regional. They say it is imperative Tenet show its commitment to the half a million people the hospital serves in the Coachella Valley by immediately addressing these issues.
Due to the poor staffing in the neonatal ICU, where extremely sick and fragile newborns are cared for, RNs report seeing newborns assigned to designated beds that are not appropriate for their needs. When a very fragile newborn is assigned to an inappropriate bed, a nurse may end up caring for more very sick newborns than is optimal, putting the babies’ safety at risk.
Lack of nurses to staff the beds on the medical-surgical (med-surg) units means these patients are held in the emergency room (ER) for up to 24 hours, often in beds in the hallway without privacy. During this time in the ER, they are not being cared for by nurses with specific training and experience in med-surg care.
Notably, KFF Health News found that in 2018, 2019, and in 2021, DRMC was penalized because of its high rate of hospital-acquired conditions. These hospital-acquired conditions include post-surgical infections, pressure sores, falls, and other issues. The onset of these conditions can be associated with inadequate staffing that makes it difficult or impossible for nurses to turn patients, help them get out of bed to exercise or to go to the restroom, or devote the optimal time to wound and surgical site care.
Chronic broken and/or inadequate equipment and woeful lack of infrastructure investment and maintenance
Nurses report long-standing problems with broken equipment, including the mobile workstations that are used to update patient records at the bedside.
The elevators frequently break and have been known to remain inoperable for days on end.
The elevator in the east tower broke down for at least five days last year. During that time patients on the 4th floor skilled nursing unit, many of whom are elderly and frail, were forced to use the stairs. In addition, it was very difficult for ancillary staff to get these patients their food in a timely manner as everything had to be carried up four flights of stairs.
The plumbing throughout the hospital is in disrepair. Nurses report numerous incidents of sewage leaking into patient rooms because of Tenet’s failure to address leaks. There are many examples around the hospital of flooding, and water damage is clearly visible.
Hospital management is well aware of the hospital’s vulnerabilities. During Tropical Storm Hillary in August of this year, management called in extra help saying all hands were needed, should the roof cave in due to the downpour.
Finally, rats and other vermin are making their homes in the hospital walls. On several occasions, dead animals have fallen out of the walls into public hospital spaces. ICU RNs had seen two rats so frequently, they had named them. While naming the two rats is lighthearted, nurses know that their presence is concerning – rats and other vermin can cause serious trouble to critical electrical and other wiring systems and carry numerous serious diseases.
“Tenet has more than enough money to fix the chronic infrastructure and equipment problems at Desert Regional Medical Center,” said John Noble, a RN in the telemetry unit. “We have repeatedly brought these concerns to management. Before Tenet is granted the lease to run our community’s hospital and make millions, they must do the right thing and address these safety issues for all our patients.”
CNA represents more than 850 nurses at DRMC.
California Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the nation with 100,000 members in more than 200 facilities throughout California and nearly 225,000 RNs nationwide.