Patients fighting for their lives often have no memory of me, but it’s my hands that pump their chests when they’re in cardiac arrest, lift them out of bed when they’re weak and wheel their gurneys into surgery.
As a mobility technician at Fontana Medical Center, I’m part of a fragile care system that’s survived COVID-19 but now risks collapse because of Kaiser Permanente’s quest to wring even more out of its work force.
The health system maintained a robust financial performance during the pandemic, yet it’s bent on pursuing an agenda that will exacerbate chronic staffing shortages, jeopardize patient health and put our community in danger. And it intends to carry out this plan at the expense of workers who perform some of the most difficult and thankless, yet vital, jobs in the health system.
My co-workers and I, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7600, ensured that the Fontana, Ontario and Riverside hospitals, along with dozens of other Kaiser locations, continued functioning during the health crisis.
The influx of COVID-19 patients placed enormous strain on staffs already stretched thin. Workers across many departments worked extra hours and took on additional duties, despite the physical and emotional toll this took on us.
I love my job because it enables me to touch so many lives in meaningful ways.
My happiest duty is escorting discharged patients — especially moms and their newborns — to the hospital exit.
But in recent months, I’ve struggled with how many trips I’ve made to the hospital’s basement instead of the front doors. Like other mobility technicians, I’ve transported dozens of coronavirus victims to the morgue, and when space there ran out, to refrigerated trailers behind the hospital. We’ve had so many deaths at times that we had to summon help from colleagues in other departments.
We pulled together and stepped up because we’re devoted to our patients and want to be there when they need us most.
Now, Kaiser threatens to do what the pandemic so far has not — undermine care.
Health system executives think they can take advantage of “invisible” workers — those toiling behind the scenes, those that patients seldom remember — without affecting care at all.
As the pandemic showed, patients don’t just need doctors and nurses to help them get well. Top-quality care requires hundreds, even thousands, working in tandem around the clock. Every worker plays a role in our facility’s life-saving mission.
That includes the maintenance engineers who keep buildings safe as well as the dietary workers who labor over hot stoves and walk miles of corridors to deliver nourishing meals to patients.
It includes the environmental services workers who scrub blood from operating room floors and disinfect every square inch of rooms where COVID-19 victims breathed their last.
And it includes mobility technicians, like me, who rush from floor to floor ensuring that patients, lab specimens and blood products get where they need to go with all due speed.
Holding down wages for workers like these is a slap in the face. It sends the message that Kaiser doesn’t value our contributions. That will compound longtime staffing shortages, push workers to the breaking point and deny patients the excellent care they deserve.
My co-workers and I call on Kaiser to abandon this scorched-earth campaign and collaborate with us to ensure the stability of a work force essential to the community’s well-being.
We put patients first. Kaiser’s executives need to do the same.
(Angela Richard has worked at Kaiser Permanente facilities for 15 years, the past 10 as a mobility technician at Fontana Medical Center.)