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A union representing 18,000 health care workers at Dignity Health plans a series of protests and “informational picketing” outside 26 of the company’s California hospitals and outpatient centers starting today until March 31.

Over the course of two weeks, thousands of healthcare workers will protest and picket throughout March at 26 Dignity Health facilities across California. Dignity Health workers say they are chronically understaffed in just about every department, putting patients and caregivers at risk.

We are so short-staffed, we only have time to see the sickest of the sick,” said Andrea Tuma, a respiratory therapist at Dignity’s Mercy Medical Center in Redding. “Those with chronic, non-urgent needs have to wait, usually until those needs become urgent. We end the day feeling like we didn’t do enough when we did everything we could.”

In a report published last year by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), 77% of Dignity Health workers surveyed described their working conditions as ‘severely’ or ‘somewhat’ understaffed.

SEIU-UHW represents approximately 18,000 Dignity Health workers statewide. Caregivers joining the protests represent a variety of job classes, including respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, emergency medical technicians, dietitians, laboratory assistants, social workers, environmental services/housekeeping, and many other frontline staff. They are calling on their employer to listen to and work with healthcare workers to address the staffing crisis through ongoing contract negotiations.

Dignity Health is part of one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the country, CommonSpirit Health, which earned over $5.4 billion in profits in fiscal year 2021.

The union and company have been negotiating a new labor contract since Jan. 26. Their current five-year contract expires April 30.

In communications with members, SEIU-UHW slammed the company for offering annual raises of 3% as consumer prices soared 6.5% last year. The union said the Dignity should have offered at least 6%.

Dignity Health shared the following statement with Becker’s Hospital Review: “We recognize and respect the right of our employees to participate in informational picketing events. These events are related to ongoing contract negotiations between Dignity Health and SEIU-UHW. The safety of our caregivers and patients is our highest priority. Hospital operations are not impacted by these events.”

Also, registered nurses at UCSD Health Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla are holding a rally on Thursday, March 16, outside the emergency room entrance to demand that University of California (UC) management end the unsafe practice of placing patients on gurneys in hallways and other areas that are not properly equipped or staffed for patient care, announced California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU). The nurses are deeply concerned about eroding patient care conditions and the lack of patient privacy and dignity.