Workers plan to picket three Tenet Healthcare hospitals Wednesday, June 16, alleging the facilities are understaffed and have left some employees without health insurance while the company has received billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds and spent $1.1 billion to buy 45 surgery centers.
The employees, including respiratory therapists, housekeepers, nursing assistants and medical technicians, are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). They will gather outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Los Alamitos Medical Center in Orange County and Lakewood Regional Medical Center in Los Angeles County.
The union represents nearly 1,000 workers at Tenet hospitals in Southern California.
In a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Xavier Becerra and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter, NUHW said it supports a request from Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, for a federal investigation into whether Tenet and other major hospital operators have misused their stimulus grants and COVID relief funds.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that Tenet Healthcare used COVID-relief funds to improperly expand its business, enrich its executives and shareholders and prioritize the company’s bottom line over patients and caregivers,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in the letter.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Tenet spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer said the company will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union in hopes of reaching a successful resolution.
“While we value all our employees who are represented by the NUHW, we are disappointed that the union is taking this approach,” she said.
Bayer noted that, while Tenent is in direct negotiations with service and maintenance workers as well as some technical employees, other environmental and dietary service employees represented by NUHW are negotiating with Compass Group, a contract vendor.
“In the recent past, the union has misled community members, elected officials and the public on our role in this matter,” she said. “We are not participants in those negotiations.”
Rosselli said Tenet’s top executives and Glenview Capital Management, the company’s largest shareholder, allegedly pocketed about $500 million from the sales of their Tenet stock.
And according to him, it didn’t end there.
“Tenet paid a combined $750,000 in bonuses to two top executives in its corporate headquarters for their work during the pandemic, even as many of Tenet’s frontline staff lacked health insurance, adequate PPE and access to COVID-19 testing,” Rosselli said.
Meanwhile, employees at the hospitals say staffing is stretched thin.
“We are dangerously understaffed on nearly every shift,” said Mailinh Nguyen, a nursing assistant at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
Rosselli said Tenet has refused to increase staffing or invest in its caregivers who put their lives on the line during the pandemic.
Maria Rocha, a subcontracted housekeeper at Lakewood Medical Center, said when she contracted COVID-19 she couldn’t afford to see a doctor even though she works at the hospital.
“Tenet had the funds to take care of everyone who worked in its hospitals,” she said. “It’s time to find out where the money went.”