Florida hospital workers will refuse to take on voluntary overtime next month, file labor complaint

A hospital spokesperson dismissed the union's claims of understaffing, insisting the hospital system provides a safe environment for patients.

click to enlarge Employees of HCA Florida Osceola Hospital rally outside the hospital over understaffing, which they say is creating unsafe conditions for patients (May 10, 2023) - photo by McKenna Schueler
photo by McKenna Schueler
Employees of HCA Florida Osceola Hospital rally outside the hospital over understaffing, which they say is creating unsafe conditions for patients (May 10, 2023)
Amid claims of understaffing, workers at 19 hospitals across Florida owned by the Hospital Corporation of America will refuse to volunteer for overtime for five days next month. The move comes in protest of workplace conditions that they say are unsafe.

“HCA can’t run our hospitals without us volunteering to work overtime because of their understaffing,” Donna Delia, a worker at HCA Florida Palms West Hospital in Palm Beach County, said in a statement shared by her union.

Voluntary overtime is paid overtime that a worker can opt into. If there's not enough staff on a shift, working longer hours could help to fill gaps in staffing that could otherwise pose a safety risk for patients, particularly those with complex healthcare needs.

“It’s time we sent a message that we won’t be exploited or taken for granted anymore,” added Delia, who’s a delegate for her union.

Delia’s union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, represents 10,000 hospital workers in HCA centers across Florida, including HCA Florida Osceola Hospital in Kissimmee.

“It’s time we sent a message that we won’t be exploited or taken for granted anymore,” an HCA worker said.

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In addition to the vote to refuse voluntary overtime, the union has also filed a complaint against the HCA hospital system for refusing to provide information about workplace injuries and safety issues within the HCA facilities.

The unfair labor practice complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board on May 19, alleges that HCA Healthcare has violated federal law by refusing to provide the union with information about hospital staffing and Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs concerning workplace injuries and illnesses, as they bargain for a new union contract.

Earlier this month, hospital workers rallied outside HCA Florida Osceola Hospital, as well as several other HCA facilities across Florida, to warn the public of a "staffing crisis" in hospitals that they say has created unsafe conditions for patients and has left staff overworked and burnt out.

“Within the last few weeks, we’ve had situations where we have the ER overwhelmed with ICU patients,” Vaughn Benton, a clinical pharmacist at the Osceola hospital, said during the rally.

“But, because we don’t have enough nursing staff, or enough staff in general to place them into ICU, they just closed the ICU down,” he said.

In response to our request for comment, a spokesperson for HCA Healthcare told Orlando Weekly in a prepared statement, “At HCA Florida Osceola Hospital, we believe a strong culture of respect and collaboration among our colleagues is critical to our mission. We value all members of our care teams and we provide a safe environment for our patients.”

The spokesperson pointed to HCA Florida’s accolades, including several of their hospitals’ inclusion on a Healthgrades list of America’s 250 Best Hospitals (including HCA Florida Osceola).

The labor union 1199 SEIU represents a wide range of hospital staff at HCA Florida Osceola, including pharmacists, dietary aides, certified nursing assistants, techs, and occupational therapists. Nurses at the hospital are represented by National Nurses United.

1199 SEIU is currently negotiating a new contract for workers at Florida hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare system.

The labor union’s rallies and unfair labor practice charge “is part of this labor union’s normal actions during collective bargaining, which happens every three years at HCA Florida Osceola Hospital,” the HCA spokesperson told Orlando Weekly.

“During those negotiations, our goal is the same: to secure a fair agreement that continues to support a culture of colleague safety, care excellence and compassion,”the spokesperson added.

Florida HCA workers have rallied and filed other unfair labor practice charges in the past, but their voiced concerns — particularly that of short-staffing — are not unique to the company’s Florida hospitals.

Nationwide, the hospital system is frequently hit with complaints of understaffing, union-busting, and prioritizing profit over patients (HCA Healthcare reported $5.6 billion in profits in 2022). The Nashville-based company is also facing allegations of Medicare fraud.

“HCA takes in billions of dollars each year with a CEO who made $30 million and can afford to make care for patients, caregivers and our communities a priority while still earning a fair profit,” said Joaquin Garcia, a radiology technician at HCA Florida Kendall Hospital in Miami, in a statement.

A study published by the union earlier this year found that staffing ratios at HCA facilities, located in 20 states nationwide, were 30% lower than national averages.

Weighted staff ratios at HCA facilities in Florida were 32% lower than state averages for other hospitals.

Workers warn that this is a big deal. Short-staffing can reduce the amount of time hospital workers have to spend with patients who have acute or complicated health needs, by forcing them to multi-task. It can also increase the risk for mistakes — some of which can have fatal consequences.

In 2019, the family of a former HCA Florida Osceola Hospital patient, for instance, sued the hospital after she died “as a result of the severe anoxic brain injury,” received in the aftermath of ovarian cyst surgery.

Working short-staffed, or otherwise lacking the resources or knowledge to adequately care for patients, can risk causing workers to develop what's been termed moral injury.

Moral injury, according to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a form of trauma that can have a “lasting psychological, spiritual, behavioral or social impact.”

Maria Campbell, a patient technician at HCA Florida Osceola Hospital, said at a rally earlier this month that she believes that “profit is being put over patients,” as well as over their care and safety.

The tech added that she’d like to give the care to patients that she would want for herself or her loved ones. “But at this point, we can’t,” she said. “Our hands are tied.”

According to a copy of the latest NLRB complaint, obtained by Orlando Weekly, the union requested copies of OSHA 200 logs (on workplace injuries and illnesses) on Jan. 17, 2023, in addition to information on hospital staffing, and a list “of all reported sentinel events or adverse incidents.”

The union reiterated and clarified its request twice to HCA in March, per the complaint, then again on May 16, with additional clarification that they were specifically seeking this information because it related to their bargaining process with HCA.

Bargaining is a process through which unions and employers can come to an agreement on things like staffing levels, worker pay, and other workplace conditions to include in a labor contract.

Refusing to provide information relevant to this process is considered a form of bad faith bargaining under Section 8 (5) of the National Labor Relations Act.

This, as well as ongoing conditions within hospitals (according to the workers), prompted them to vote to refuse voluntary overtime — a move meant to spur HCA into action.

Orlando Weekly requested information from the union about how many workers voted to refuse voluntary overtime, and what percentage of union membership that represented, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Workers at 19 HCA Florida hospitals, including the Osceola hospital, will refuse to take on voluntary overtime from June 2 through June 7, 2023, according to the union.

In the meantime, the union plans to continue demanding better workplace protections for workers to be included within their next contract.

Garcia, the Miami hospital worker, added in a statement about the vote, “To help solve this crisis, we need HCA to respect us, protect us, pay us and staff us.”

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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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