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St. Mary Medical Center workers picket over staffing levels

By Alicia Robinson,


Several dozen hospital workers and their union representatives protested Monday outside Long Beach’s St. Mary Medical Center to call attention to staffing levels they say are too low, something that’s become a common complaint at medical facilities in Southern California and beyond.

St. Mary employees say the understaffing has gone on for several years and they’re burned out—and mistakes can happen when people are overworked.

“The (hospital’s) solution is overtime, (or) offer bonuses? We don’t want overtime,” said central service technician Raymond Cano. “At the end of the day, we want to go home.”

Aaron Keo, a computerized tomography (CT) tech who’s been at St. Mary for 10 years, said he came to Monday’s demonstration to support his coworkers as they bargain for a new contract. They need raises to address inflation, Keo said, and he’s worried the company will stop picking up health care costs and push them onto employees.

Health care workers and union representatives use clackers and other noisemakers during a protest about “unsafe” staffing levels at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach Monday, March 20, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

In an emailed statement, a hospital spokesperson said the picket was “related to ongoing contract negotiations between Dignity Health and SEIU-UHW” and would not affect hospital services. (The Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West represents some workers at St. Mary, including those protesting Monday.)

“Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center is deeply committed to the well-being of our staff and our patients,” the statement said.

“We want our community to know that providing safe, high-quality care is always our top priority.”

In November, a last-minute contract agreement averted a planned nurses’ strike at Kaiser Permanence facilities in Northern California, and since then workers have held protests of staffing levels at facilities run by large Southern California health systems such as HCA Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare.

Health care industry officials have been sounding the alarm since at least last year about shortages of nurses and other health workers.

Asked how hospitals can meet employees’ demands to boost staffing when there are fewer workers in the field to choose from, SEIU-UHW communications specialist Padraic Kane said Monday that when people are leaving for better pay or taking second jobs to make ends meet, a worker shortage isn’t the only problem.

“There’s workers that want to be hired but somebody like Dignity (Health), they’re not offering living wages,” Kane said.

Cano hopes the St. Mary protest will cause hospital officials to “be more conscious of what they’re doing to our community and our patients. When they say ‘human kindness,’ for the love of God, show us some,” he said, referring to Dignity’s company slogan.

Health care workers and union representatives protest “unsafe” staffing levels at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach Monday, March 20, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

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