Templeton’s Twin Cities Community Hospital is under fire from some of its own employees.
On Oct. 3, 53 nurses filed claims against the hospital, accusing Twin Cities of multiple violations of California labor law, some of which they believe may have put the health and safety of patients in jeopardy.
The nurse’s claims come in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit between nine Twin Cities nurses and the hospital, which was filed in March 2015. That lawsuit alleges that the 122-bed hospital was severely understaffed, leaving its nurses unable to take the rest and lunch breaks they were entitled to under state law, working extra and unpaid hours, and violating legally established patient-to-nurse ratios established by California law.
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- LEGAL TUSSEL: Fifty-three nurses at Twin Cities Community Hospital are accusing the hospital of multiple violations of California labor law.
“Our hope is that by bringing these claims on behalf of such a large number of nurses, the hospital will fix these problems and start treating its nurses with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Lauren Teukolsky, an attorney for the SLO-based law firm representing the nurses, said in a written statement.
In some cases, nurses were simply not offered or discouraged from taking rest or lunch breaks they were legally entitled to while working 12-hour shifts, according to the lawsuit. When they were able to take breaks, the understaffing left various departments in the hospital below state-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. The lawsuit charges that hospital supervisors instructed nurses to violate those ratios. One nurse who’d worked in the hospital’s ICU since 1994 claimed to have come back from her breaks to find no one watching her patients, or to find patients that had pulled out their intravenous drips, catheters, or sitting in their own urine and feces.
“I found crucial medication drips empty, with the medication alarm going off and no one there to check,” the nurse, identified as Kim Emard, said in Teukolsky’s written statement.
The lawsuit contends that the nurses tried multiple times to bring their concerns to the attention of their superiors and the hospital’s administration, only to be ignored.
“What led to the frustration on our part was bringing our concerns to the administration, only to have them ignored,” Wendy Lamb, a Twin Cities nurse, told New Times. “It opens you up to all kinds of potential issues.”
Concerns about potential labor violations and their impact on patient health and safety at Twin Cities aren’t likely to be new news to the hospitals nurses. Emails obtained by New Times showed hospital nurses raising concerns over the very issues presented in lawsuit to their supervisors as far back as 2010.
“We have jeopardized patients’ lives and have put our licenses on the line over and over,” reads one email, submitted anonymously by a nurse to the hospital’s administration in 2012. “We are being placed in situations that are illegal and unsafe. I urge you to take this seriously.”
In addition to violating labor laws related to mandated breaks and patient-to-staff ratios, the nurses involved in the lawsuit also alleged that the hospital underpaid nurses and failed to pay them properly for overtime.
The hospital has previously had its knuckles rapped by state officials. In 2013, the California Labor Commission ordered the hospital to pay more than $32,000 in missed wages to a nurse who reportedly missed more than 441 rest breaks due to understaffing issues.
Tenet Health, one of the nation’s largest for-profit health care companies, owns Twin Cities. Teukolsky, along with Lamb and many of the other nurses speaking out, believes the labor violations were committed in service of the company’s profit. In 2015, Tenet brought in more than $2.2 billion in adjusted net income.
“I think it is crystal clear to everyone who works at the hospital that cost cutting is always on the mind of Tenet,” Teukolsky told New Times. “Every single penny that Tenet can squeeze out of its nurses it will.”
Twin Cities Community Hospital provided a written statement in response to questions from New Times about the nurses’ claims.
“We have and will continue to defend the hospital against the pending action,” the statement reads. “Twin Cities Community Hospital staffs based on patient need and in accordance with state laws. We are committed to providing safe, high-quality care to every patient.”