St. Joe’s Nurses Complain Their Employers Aren’t Fixing a Broken Payroll System Nor Staffing Shortages
Although problems with their pay was concerning, multiple nurses expressed concern about the low staffing levels. One RN who was holding a picket sign at the protest told us, “The situation here is untenable. There’s no CNAs to help, there’s no break nurses, and if you’ve been a nurse long enough, you just say, ‘hey – I’m not gonna take this anymore’ and you go… .”
Three pay cycles have come and gone without solutions for many staff who haven’t received the full amounts on their paychecks. Nor have they received the recently-offered $500 “mitigation payments,” according to members and CNA representatives. Local RNs and ancillary staff have warned that the system is failing and could collapse unless Providence can quickly find a way to make good on overdue paychecks and simultaneously hire additional nurses and ancillary staff to make the wheels turn more smoothly.
In a press release from the nurses’ union, CNA Representative Lesley Ester, who is also a RN in the Rehab unit at St. Joseph Hospital Eureka, states, “[A]fter years of asking us to work through a pandemic with insufficient staffing and equipment shortages Providence has decided to reward their ‘Heroes’ with more short staffing, missed breaks, and unpaid wages. It is past time for Providence to step up and invest in nurses and correctly pay us for our work.”As nurses and other hospital workers filtered in and out of the picket line Thursday, either joining the rally after completing a 12-hour shift, or finding the time during a seldom-available break from a shift, workers on the street echoed the frustrations articulated in the press release regarding the botched payroll system, which has been miscalculating pay for hundreds of staff members in the area. The statement from the union reads, “[T]he errors are ongoing and include the most recent pay period, ending August 5. Hundreds of nurses have been affected by these errors, which include missing pay for shifts, incorrect pay rates, incorrect deductions, and errors in paid time off. Since the new time-keeping system was implemented, Providence has received more than 77,000 HR requests systemwide from employees.”
The CNA press release announcing the informational picket on Thursday explained, “[I]n addition to the unsafe working conditions that jeopardize patient safety, nurses have been contending with egregious payroll errors since June 19, 2022, when Providence implemented a new payroll system, touted as an upgrade to the previous system.”
$500 MITIGATION PAYMENTS VS. CORRECTED PAYCHECKS
Providence offered an explanation as to what is going wrong with the newly outsourced payroll system, saying via press release, “[T]here are some data configuration adjustments that need to be made to account for the nuances in the pay structure at various Providence locations.” Providence’s organizational communication team acknowledges the importance of paying employees properly, not just because it is the law, stated, “[P]roviding accurate and timely pay is one of the most fundamental roles that Providence plays as an employer, and we take any discrepancies in paychecks or missed pay incredibly seriously. Our caregivers work selflessly to provide the care that our communities depend on, and we are deeply sorry that we have missed the mark for some individuals or that we created any kind of hardship or anxiety for caregivers and their families.”
A retired registered nurse who previously worked at St. Joseph Hospital before Providence purchased the hospital group in 2018, Kathryn Donahue, came to show support for current staff. [Video by Ryan Hutson]
As one of the largest employers in the county, Providence’s payroll mistakes have already begun to trickle down, affecting the ability of many healthcare professionals locally to pay bills or rent, shop for groceries, school supplies for children returning to class, buy gas for their vehicle, or use funds for summer fun.
We attended a zoom press conference hosted by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) earlier in the week, after having received an email from Providence St Joseph Hospital’s Communications Director, Christian Hill, which made stated in part, “[W]e have identified a group of caregivers affected by this issue and are providing an immediate, one-time mitigation payment in the form of $500 for each of the 207 affected caregivers. This payment will be made today, Aug. 9, so caregivers have funds while the root cause is addressed.”
According to local union representatives and other journalists in attendance, this was the first time any of them, including the staff who were on the call had been made aware of such an offer. We forwarded the press release to other media outlets who asked for a copy, and quickly learned that the offer has not yet been broached with union representatives by the hospital. It is worth noting that when a staff member is represented by a union, the employer is obligated to negotiate pay issues with the union, and is not supposed to engage in what is considered an unfair labor practice, called “direct dealing,” because this may undermine the best interests of the union member/employee.
During that press conference, one local staff member from Redwood Memorial Hospital called into question the hospital’s ability to maintain business as usual, saying to the digital gaggle of press, “[P]rovidence would be unable to run the hospital and the medical centers that our communities rely on without our caregivers, which is why we’re unable to understand how a multi-billion dollar company is unable to pay its workers fair wages for fair work in accordance with our contracts.”
While the payment may be helpful for many who have had to choose between paying bills or buying food in the last month or more, it remains unclear what strings may be attached to this “mitigation” money. One CNA union member expressed skepticism, saying, “I wonder if they will deduct it without telling us later on, or maybe it’s a loan we pay for later – I don’t want a gift, anyway – I WANT MY PAYCHECK!”
Many staff members have asked, ‘Why can’t they just cut us a corrected paycheck on the spot?’ CNA representative Lesley Ester stated that this is not due to a lack of equipment, but rather, due to a lack of personnel with the ability to do the math. She addressed the crowd with help of the megaphone, between supportive car honks passing behind her, “[T]hey can! They have a check printer in the HR office. What they don’t have is somebody that can run the numbers to see how much they owe you.” Ester continued, “So, on our first paycheck with Genesis on July 5 there were many unpaid people that did not receive paychecks – they were in the lobby cutting checks that day.” She emphasized, “It is possible.”
CNA Representative and local RN Lesley Ester offered feedback regarding why Providence is not able to “just cut a new check” for those employees who have not been paid accurately in the last six weeks. [All photos and Video by Ryan Hutson]
Additionally, neither CNA or it’s fellow union, NUHW, have been able to confirm the receipt of any $500 “mitigation payment” as was publicized via the press release we received directly, forwarded from Providence on Tuesday, following the publishing of our article on the NUHW response to the payroll debacle. Ester told us she checked her bank account, did not find the mitigation payment there, and had not been aware of any coworkers who had received said mitigation money. Although she was aware of roughly 250 nurses needing a paycheck correction, she did not know who the 207 caregivers mentioned by Providence were specifically.
Ester said, “Nobody knows who these 207 workers are, and nobody that I know has received a $500 payment.” When asked for her personal thoughts as to this offer, which had not yet been communicated to union representatives at the time of the picket, Ester said simply, “Providence has not made clear what they mean by that statement. we have no idea what they meant by that statement.” Then the CNA rep added, “I do have a nurse that was behind thousands and thousands of dollars that was having trouble meeting her critical bills – we asked them to make an off-payroll cycle payment. They promised us it would be made on Tuesday. We waited, we waited, and that payment has still not been made.” choosing her words carefully, Ester added, “I think Providence does not know what they are talking about.”
In regard to the ongoing payroll fiasco that so many local caregivers are currently finding themselves saddled with, St. Joseph’s Communications Director Christian Hill had stated earlier this week via press release that some of the errors were resolved, while others needed more attention. Having spoken with several caregivers who were not aware of any fixes being effective yet, reiterated that although the HR ‘ticket’ system may have reflected a “resolved” issue, no real action had been taken, or in some cases, an insufficient correction was made, but still left discrepancies to be hammered out.
UNDERSTAFFING & ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF STAFF-TO-PATIENT RATIOS
In addition to raising the alarm about the payroll dysfunction and the outsourced management of the Human Resources departments for Humboldt’s Providence-run hospitals, CNA alleges that “Providence is violating California’s safe staffing law,” explaining in the press release that title 22 in California “mandates safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios.”
The nurses contend that without enough hired hands to go around, the acute care facility is unable to function at full capacity. As the CNA union press release states, “RNs are being assigned too many patients to care for and as a result, they cannot respond to patients’ call lights in a timely way or take meal or rest breaks during their 12-hours shifts.”
According to California’s Title 22, “In a hospital providing basic emergency medical services or comprehensive emergency medical services, the licensed nurse-to-patient ratio in an emergency department shall be 1:4 or fewer at all times that patients are receiving treatment. There shall be no fewer than two licensed nurses physically present in the emergency department when a patient is present.” According to nurses and staff we have spoken with directly, this standard is unattainable with the staffing that Providence St. Joseph provides.
As Ester addressed the crowd of caregivers through a bullhorn, she stated that since the start of the year, twenty “experienced nurses have left” St. Joseph Hospital. Ester contended this “is a huge loss of knowledge and nursing experience. These RNs help train and mentor new nurses. Now some shifts are staffed with RNs with less than one year’s experience.”We spoke with an ICU nurse who had joined the picket line on the corner of Harrison and Dolbeer after a grueling 14 hour shift. Peter Mueller told us he is at risk of losing his medical license each and every time he shows up for work, due to the level of unsafe practices that staff are forced to make do with. Peter explained that a lack of medical supplies – from dressings to syringes to ice – are in desperately short supply, directly impacting his and others’ ability to operate safely, very literally. Peter was visibly tired but spoke passionately about his patients and his job.
Having graduated from CR’s nursing program two years ago, Peter was excited to join the ranks at Providence St. Joseph Hospital with a vision of setting down and raising a family in Humboldt. He does not know if that is realistic now, saying, “My license is on the line every time I come to work.” He told us, “It’s really hard for the people who are here for their life, and careers, because they can’t just pick up and leave and they suffer, and they risk their license every day when we’re understaffed.”
Peter Jon Mueller spoke with us about his last two years as an ICU nurse at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. [All photos and Video by Ryan Hutson]
As an example, Peter told us about his struggle to properly care for patients under such circumstances. “One of my patients in those first two hours while I was on the PCU [progressive care unit] needed a medication that required me to measure out exactly 1.5 mL for a very high-risk medication. We have not had 2 mL or 3 mL Luer-Loc syringes for months! And the 10 mL syringes we had – you can’t accurately measure 1.5 mL – and I [had]to use my energy to ask people to watch my patients while I went over to the ICU and I found the LAST 3 mL syringe to properly measure 1.5 mL…” He added, “It’s very unsafe.”
In another example of lack of basic supplies in a high-acuity department such as in the PCU or the ICU, Mueller relayed another experience recently that was still freshly frustrating to him. “It’s happened where we run out of dressing kits and the house supervisor may not have time, due to being over-inundated trying to shuffle everyone around, to run down to the storage unit to find one of those,” he told us.
At Thursday picket, the union members articulated a short list of demands. RNs and coworkers urged management to make real efforts to invest in staffing solutions, and named three other requests in their press release. “Stop violating the state’s safe staffing law,” “resolve ongoing unpaid wages and payroll errors” as well as “communicate when the payroll errors will be corrected.”
At the time of publishing, we have not received a response to our inquiry made late Friday to Providence regarding this situation.
This article is written by Ryan Hutson, a local freelance journalist. Follow Ryan at Humboldt Freelance Reporting on Facebook, Insta and YouTube. To support Ryan’s award winning reporting, please consider donating here.