SEIU 1021

“Body found cold at SFGH”: RNs testify to management about the severity of staffing crisis
Dozens of SEIU 1021 SF RNs showed up to bargaining to plead for more staffing


Thursday, April 11, San Francisco Department of Public Health negotiators were met with a wave of impassioned testimonials from SEIU 1021 registered nurses from the city’s public hospitals and community clinics. Dozens of RNs filled the bargaining room, putting a face on the staffing crisis decimating patient care.

They are demanding that SFDPH improve working conditions, hire more full-time RNs, and reduce the use of travel nurses. Many in the packed room echoed the risks to patient health and safety of their working conditions, including mandatory overtime that turns already long days into 16-hour days, sometimes without meal breaks, with another shift the following day. This puts lives and licenses at risk.

Paul Rueckhouse, a nurse at SF General Hospital, said about a month and a half ago, the body of a patient was found cold. This was because there were too few staff overwhelmed with so many tasks that it was impossible to make timely rounds. He warned that also means mistakes and delays in patients are getting their medications, and that basic but dire needs can be overlooked. “If a patient become unstable, others are sitting in their own feces, because we just don’t have enough people,” said Rueckhouse. 

There were accounts of medicine mistakes and hallucinations from constant mandatory overtime and no breaks. One nurse, describing it as “being held against her will,” said that she is forced to work impaired, drive home impaired with near misses, and care for her own kids impaired.

Shannon Roberts, who has worked in Maternal and Child Health at SF General  for 21 years, said she “visualized that the hallway was going in waves, and then I realized well this is just kind of the effect of severe fatigue… because I couldn’t stop to take a break.” 

Short staffing is also blamed for violence in what should be a safe space to care for the community. Hannah Lucero, who works in the psychiatric unit at SF General, said, “I’ve been punched in the face. I’ve watched almost all my coworkers get assaulted. My supervisor has been out for months after a concussion. These are good nurses who are having to choose between their safety and dignity versus their job. I’m upset to be a part of a system that is not doing the bare minimum to support its employees in providing enough staff.”

Another nurse shared concerns over poor recruitment measures to attract new talent who would be willing to move to a city with a skyrocketing cost of living, calling them “archaic.” 

“Our taxpayers are paying money to make sure we’re doing preventative care we’re putting out fires instead,” said Daniela Vargas, a public health nurse at 333 Valencia. “One of my teammates is already on medical leave within two years. They should not feel overwhelmed to do this job, a wonderful job to care for community.”