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Providence St. Joseph Health hospice workers join NUHW

Workers at Providence St. Joseph Health Hospice-affiliated facilities in Sonoma County voted overwhelmingly on Feb. 9 to join NUHW, capping off an organizing drive that started after Providence laid off about 15 of their colleagues.

For the 131 registered nurses, social workers, home health aides, and chaplains joining NUHW, Providence’s takeover of Memorial Hospice, Hospice of Petaluma, and North County Hospice in 2017 has left them fighting to preserve a patient-first culture that made the hospices among the highest-rated in the nation.

“Providence has taken a lot away from us. And they’re not going to get away with it,” said Aidee Garcia, a home health aide who has worked at Memorial Hospice of Santa Rosa for six years. “Joining the union is about protecting my (work) family and our work culture — and protecting our patients, those poor vulnerable people who don’t have a voice.”

Garcia, who was raised by her grandmother, said every time she’s with one of her patients, she sees her relatives in them. She does her best to establish meaningful relationships and makes sure they receive the best care possible.

“Many times, we’re the last person to visit these patients or the only person that visits them,” Garcia said. “We’re like family to them. We try to make sure that hour is the best for them, one of quality. It shouldn’t be a rushed visit because another patient is waiting.”

But Garcia and her colleagues at the Sonoma County hospices have been rushing around, traveling to see more patients, than ever before. Last October, Providence began requiring home health aides to care for an additional patient every day, essentially increasing their workload by 20 percent. Two weeks later, the company laid off about 15 staff members, including clerical staff that handled phone calls.

The company, which owns three hospitals in Sonoma County and has reserves totaling $10 billion, also cut the time caregivers had to prepare for their visits, communicate with family members and order supplies. After Providence laid off the clerical staff, nurses found themselves fielding more calls and providing less care.

Appointments with home health aides were cut from 90 minutes to an hour, leaving the needs of patients unmet.

“Before we could give the patient a bath, we could dry their hair and change their bedding,” Garcia said. “Now, you either change the bed or wash their hair. Or you wash their hair, but you can’t dry it because you run out of time and you need to go see the other patient.”

Workers say that the hospices have been profitable, but not profitable enough for Providence.

“Providence is only seeing numbers, how many more people we can see and how much money they can make,” Garcia said. “When it comes to care, they don’t have compassion for the patients.”

The workers will soon get ready to bargain their first contract. There will be a lot on the table, but Garcia knows her top priority.

“What I wish for the most is that we go back to four patients a day,” she said. “Not because I don’t want to work more, but so that we can give our patients the time and quality they deserve.”

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