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Palomar Health rejects unions’ allegations of unsafe working conditions

Union members demonstrating in front of Palomar Medical Center.

Palomar Health this week rejected allegations by the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Caregivers & Healthcare Employees Union (CHEU) of “critical low staffing and dangerous co-mingling of COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients” assigned to nurses and caregivers.

The Health System’s hospital in Poway has a 12 unit ICU for which it applied for a nursing ratio waiver from the California Department of Public Health. According to a source at the health system, this is a process every healthcare system in California has already completed to prepare for the possible surge of COVID-19 patients. 

Currently no changes have actually happened yet at Palomar Health, although Sharp, Scripps, and UCSD have already put the waivers in effect. Palomar is preparing for the future.

In a statement released several days ago Palomar Health declared, “To suggest we are prioritizing anything other than patient safety and public health during an ongoing pandemic is appalling. The accusation we are commingling COVID-19 positive patients with non-COVID-19 patients is completely false. As a healthcare system, it is irresponsible to instill fear in our community. These false allegations by the union are frightening and endanger the health and safety of our community by discouraging people with serious conditions from seeking medical care.”

The statement continued, “Palomar Health has always and will continue to follow all proper patient safety regulations, including keeping suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients isolated from all other patients even before they enter the hospital doors. COVID and non-COVID patients are housed throughout the hospital, but isolated in individual rooms with the majority of COVID patients in negative-pressure rooms.”

Last week Palomar Health received a California Department of Public Health (CDPH) waiver that allows Palomar Medical Center Poway to assign one ICU nurse to care for up to three patients, depending on patient acuity. The waiver, which only applies to one 12-bed unit which has both intensive and intermediate care patients located in the same area, has not been implemented and is only in preparation for a potential patient surge or reduction in workforce due to sickness. According to the statement, “The effect of the waiver will always be determined by the level of care the patient requires and reduces ICU patient holds in the Emergency Department. Like many other health systems, Palomar Health is appropriately and proactively increasing capacity to care for our community during this ongoing and unprecedented pandemic.”

The statement continued, “Finally, Palomar Health rejects the nurse’s union contention of unsafe patient conditions and inadequate PPE. Palomar Health has always met or exceeded PPE requirements and follows all nurse-patient ratio guidelines. We regret the union felt compelled to take this level of action during a pandemic after getting upset they weren’t notified of the waiver approval sooner.”

The unions responded on December 13, “Nurses, caregivers, and community members are outraged at Palomar Heath CEO’s misinformation and blatant misrepresentation of actual critical low staffing and dangerous co-mingling of COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients assigned to nurses and caregivers. Health care workers were taken aback by the CEO, Diane Hansen, telling the media and the community that reports of commingling are appalling and false even after numerous community members and an overwhelming number of caregivers are providing statements that these improper actions are constantly happening.”

The unions claim that internal documents from administrators at the Poway hospital and a screenshot of an email from the Palomar Health Infection Control Officer “clearly shows  dangerous commingling was established as a practice, and in one e-mail, the action was cited as a means to increase productivity,” says the statement.

The nurses accuse Palomar Health CEO Diane Hansen of misrepresenting actual conditions at the hospital puts patients, health care workers and the public at risk. 

The nurses and caregivers demonstrated against the ratio waivers and commingling during Monday’s Palomar Health Board Meeting.

2 responses to “Palomar Health rejects unions’ allegations of unsafe working conditions”

  1. Karen says:

    Diane Hansen is a bold face liar. We do co mingle patients and PPE is always a
    Problem.

  2. gary Roberson says:

    The staff gave the CEO a 92% vote of no confidence. The real problem is with the Board of Directors. Some of which have been on the board for 10 years. The board chair Linda Greer works for Arch health. Palomar has spent millions bailing that organization out. Having Greer on the board should be investigated for conflict of interest. She was also on the Board when the former CEO Covert put the organization in financial ruin. Perhaps its time to launch an investigation into the board. It is time for the leadership to go in a different direction. The other problem is there are directors / admin staff that have been there for 25 years or more. It’s time for new ideas. Time to start house cleaning. One last parting mention, the San Diego Magazine with the so called front line workers on the cover. Those are not front line workers but administrative staff who have very little contact with patients.

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