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Palomar Health nurses and health care workers speak out on layoffs in San Diego

Health care workers said they are speaking out about recent layoffs and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers.

SAN DIEGO — Palomar Health registered nurses, health care workers, members of the California Nurses Association and Caregivers, and Healthcare Employees Union held a public action in response to layoffs outside the hospital in Poway Monday.

Health care workers said they are speaking out about recent layoffs of more than 220 employees, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and other protections for frontline health care workers.

They said their main point with Monday’s protest is that the laying off of essential health care workers is not in line with preparing for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients, which they’re expecting in a couple weeks.

They also said the layoffs come on the heels of Palomar Health announcing the opening of a 250 bed FEMA field hospital at their Escondido location. Nurses said FEMA is giving the hospital money to build out the 10th and 11th floors and they'll be the ones to man that field hospital.

One critical care nurse said it’s a scary time for them so layoffs add to the uncertainty. 

"We take care of these patients, we go home to our families -- it's scary and we don't know what is to come or what the full extent of this COVID-19 is. We're just asking everyone to be safe," she said.

During an unrelated interview last week with News 8, a doctor with Palomar Health said they’re at 40% capacity. But, the nurses said they want to be prepared for a possible surge in a couple weeks.

Palomar Health released the following statement in response to union activity:

"It is disappointing that some members of the union at Palomar Health have decided to use a global health crisis as a platform to disparage our hospital that our community is depending on right now. To ensure we will be able to continue providing healthcare during this crisis and after, we must take unfortunate, temporary actions like many other businesses and hospitals across the country to balance our finances that have been affected by the pandemic.

It’s important to know that elective surgeries and outpatient services were suspended on March 18 due to COVID-19 safety precautions. While these were absolutely the right actions to take, it resulted in many nurses and caregivers without patients to care for. 74% of affected staff were from surgery and outpatient departments, the remaining positions were support roles not directly related to patient care. There was no impact to inpatient bedside care positions. It is our intent to bring employees back after business returns to normal levels.

All 221 employees impacted have been notified, are immediately eligible for unemployment and will retain their health insurance throughout the 21-day temporary layoff. This is a time when we should be coming together to find solutions. We have and will continue to work with the union in a professional manner, and do not feel that gathering is an effective or safe way to make a statement right now."

Palomar Health President and CEO, Diane Hansen, released the following statement on temporary workforce reduction:

“As a public healthcare district, we take our responsibility to provide care to our community very seriously and must adjust staffing levels to patient volume to remain solvent. Safe patient care will remain our top priority and these temporary layoffs do not impact any positions related to inpatient bedside care. However, the only way we can ensure we are able to continue serving the community during and after this crisis is if we make the right decisions for the organization at the right time.”

“We understand how tough this is on our employees and are very empathetic to the situation. This is a very difficult time for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unforeseen challenges and extreme difficulties to healthcare systems across the county. Issuing temporary layoffs was not an easy decision and was only done after much consideration and many other measures. The health and well-being of all our employees is important to us and we expect to bring our Palomar Health family back to work as quickly as possible. “

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