A delegation of St. Joseph Hospital of Orange registered nurses, local religious leaders and community supporters braved the heat to deliver a petition to CEO Steve Moreau Monday morning calling for the restoration of long standing employee benefits, including disability and retiree healthcare plans that were recently cut.
The 15 or so nurses, who are in the midst of an organizing campaign to join the California Nurses Association (CNA), followed up with a short rally outside Moreau's office.
"When I came to Saint Joseph's 11 years ago, it was the best place I had ever worked," explained Diana Brody, a registered nurse who works in the hospital recovery room. "We were family and we were very proud to be working here. We upheld the values of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and our patients received the greatest care.
"But this hospital is no longer family," Brody said outside the hospital at 1100 West Stewart Dr., Orange, where petitions signed by 460 employees were delivered to the CEO. "This is a business."
St. Joseph Hospital followed up on making $43 million in net income in 2013 by laying off 152 employees in February, closing its blood bank, reducing services and hours of outpatient clinics and decreasing the use of unit secretaries, nursing assistants and resource RNs who provide break relief in the hospital, claims the CNA.
Then, in August, the hospital announced the elimination of the retiree health plan, decreased contributions to retirement plans, the elimination of a disability reserve to cover planned or unexpected medical leaves, and the loss of one-week of paid time off for employees who worked at the facility for more than 15 years.
The poor work conditions and slashing of benefits have caused an exodus of long-term experienced nurses and "inevitable" decline in the quality of patient care, say the nurses.
"The capability of carrying out the mission of St. Joseph Hospital is changing," observed Wendy Ellis, an RN who works in the mother and baby unit. "In recent months we have suffered cuts to our staffing levels and benefits, which has negatively impacted our ability as nurses to deliver the excellent care our patients deserve."
The hospital's moves have also ramped up efforts among RNs to join the CNA, according to Madeleine Del Villar, who calls it "imperative" that she and other St. Joseph workers win the right to join the union.
"I have devoted 33 years of my life to serving our community as an RN at St. Joseph Hospital," Del Villar said. "After all that time, management is taking away important benefits for long-time employees. These cuts were imposed without any warning or discussion. I feel that I am being forced to leave the bedside, where I belong with my patients, before my time."
The CNA's influence has been growing at other hospitals in California the Orange-based health system oversees. St. Joseph executives have expressed a willingness to accept organizing so long as that's what the majority of nurses want at individual facilities and everyone works together moving forward to ensure quality care.
The St. Joseph nurses were joined by Father Arturo Ferraras of St. Mathew Church, members from the Orange County Labor Federation (representing AFT, CTA Teamsters, and CNA), as well as nurses from UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Long Beach Memorial, Community Hospital of Long Beach, Dignity St. Mary's Long Beach and Chapman Medical Center, among others.