SEIU 1021

Nurses rally for safe staffing at San Francisco’s public hospitals


Hospital workers from both SF General and Laguna Honda with SEIU1021 took to the front steps of the city’s only level 1 trauma center on Tuesday, April 4, to demand safer working conditions for all.

Nurses are often short staffed and find themselves traumatized while outnumbered. Some have to defend themselves from attacks by unruly patients while doing their best to provide care.

“It’s so disrespectful to me, you know, we put our lives on the line for COVID and we’re still struggling four years later. It’s a thankless job,” said Raphaella Roundtree, an RN at Laguna Honda Hospital. Others held signs, while the group chanted “When we fight, we win!”

Union members strongly believe that the short staffing is in turn leading to unsafe conditions for their patients too. At times, just two nurses watch a floor of 40 patients at Laguna Honda. This has led to an increase in falls and now new oversight from the state, as they have come in to investigate.

“Nurses have submitted over 1,400 assignment-despite-objection forms that outline concerns for patient safety, an inability to take breaks, and a violation of state-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios,” said Heather Bollinger, RN at SFGH and SEIU 1021 RN Chapter President.

Those complaints have been coming in for the past two years as DPH fails to improve the unsafe staffing levels leading to burnout and degrading care. As SFDPH has increased management positions by over 35% since 2018, it has added only 7% more nursing positions in the same time.

But bringing in travel nurses is not the answer. SFDPH has been increasingly contracting out to bring in these temporary workers that take additional time to train, only for them to leave as quickly as they came. And even though DPH claims there are currently only 40 vacant RN positions at SFGH, it has used the equivalent of 291 FTEs in temporary, per diem positions and recently requested an additional $100 million in funding for registry.

According to the SF Public Health Commission’s February report, SFGH’s Med/Surg and ICU departments have been operating well over budgeted staff bed capacity more often than not over the past two years – meaning that its posted vacancies do not accurately represent the actual staffing needs.

At the rally, SEIU 1021 President Theresa Rutherford shared from her own experience having been a nursing assistant at Laguna Honda for over 20 years: “I know what it’s like to watch my patients die, needing care and to give above and beyond because this is not just a job, it’s a calling. It’s my commitment, because when I see my patient I see my mom, I see my grandma, I myself, I see all of us.”

While SF Supervisor Asha Safai shouted, “Why are we paying for overtime? Why are we paying for contracted nurses? When we can have good, dedicated frontline nurses that are going to put their lives on the line coming into work every single day.”

Hospital staff said they are ready to go on strike if they have to, but at the end of the day all they want to do is get to doing the work they are passionate about.