Huntington Nurses Rally, Claim Fear of Retaliation Kept Superbug Outbreak Secret

Allysha Almada and Vicki Lin walked resolutely to the ChiefHuntington Hospital Nurses RallyHuntington Hospital Nurses RallyHuntington Hospital Nurses RallyHuntington Hospital Nurses RallyHuntington Hospital Nurses RallyHuntington Hospital Nurses Rally

2:33 pm | August 24, 2015

[Updated Monday, August 24, 2015 | 10:20 p.m.]  Registered nurses gathered outside Huntington Memorial Hospital at noon Monday demanding that two nurses who were reportedly fired last week be reinstated and called for unionization so that issues like the recent superbug outbreak are not kept in the dark.

Chanting “injury to one is an injury to all” more than 25 nurses and community leaders marched with determination into the hospital to deliver a petition signed by 200 nurses to reinstate the two terminated nurses after the rally.

RN Allysha Almada testified before a community panel last month about the nurses’ efforts to organize collectively and also had her face featured on a bus campaign. Almada’s colleagues say it was her outspoken advocacy that led to her firing.

Almada said one reason she was so outspoken to bring union representation to the registered nurses at Huntington Memorial Hospital was that nurses who see problems such as the recent superbug outbreak could approach administrators without fear of retaliation.

“It’s a faulty scope. UCLA found out about this problem months ago. Cedars found out about this problem months ago, but Huntington continued to use those scopes. Nurses knew this was a problem but they weren’t able to stand up to advocate for the patient’s safety because of the culture of fear,” Almada said.

Huntington Memorial alerted health authorities Wednesday to a potential link between three Huntington patients who were found to have the pseudomonas bacteria “superbug,” and Olympus Corp. duodenoscopes that were used to treat the patients.

The bacteria — which can be deadly — can become trapped inside the reusable devices, potentially putting future patients at risk.

“Nurses have talked to us about [the superbug] incident in the past. But the reason they haven’t reported it or talked to administrators about it is because they are afraid of being disciplined, or of what happened here, being terminated. These are the very issues they want to speak about without fear,” rally organizer Jennifer Suh.

Monday’s rally was organized with the help of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) which on Friday announced that it had filed an unfair labor charge against the hospital’s management.

Huntington Memorial nurses began organizing in May 2014 to affiliate with CAN/NNU after complaining that a number of their efforts to engage management on patient care issues were rebuffed.

In April this year, the National Labor Relations Board supervised a secret ballot vote to determine whether or not the nurses at Huntington Memorial Hospital want representation from CAN/NNU. Four hundred forty five voted for representation, 539 against it, but 175 ballots were challenged.

With such a number of challenged ballots, the NLRB will have to resolve them before making a definite determination of the result.

In a press statement in April, the HMH management said, “In the meantime, with the vote behind us, Huntington Hospital will move forward. We will continue to keep our focus on our commitment to providing safe, quality care to our patients and their families.”

CNA/NNU ultimately called on federal officials to set aside the election, citing more than 40 violations of federal workplace protections that made a “free and fair election impossible.”

Almada testified on July 26th, before community panel about nurses’ efforts to organize as a union and to address patient care issues at HMH. Alameda said she had been vocal about the need for a union since day one of the efforts. Since then, on the job she said she had been bullied, ostracized, personally and physically attacked, with Thursday’s termination as the culmination.

“I put my whole soul into caring for my patients, and management knows this,” says Almada, who was fired after nearly five years in the Huntington ICU. “I’ve worked as a nurse educator, sat on a committee of nurse leaders who bring patient care concerns to management; I have special training in trauma and open heart. I care deeply about providing the best possible care, and that’s exactly why I spoke up at the panel—to help ensure that RNs are supported in providing top-quality, safe care. The next thing I knew, I was being fired. This is intimidation – and it’s wrong.”

Vicki Lin also spoke at the rally about how she had been suspended, briefly reinstated and then ultimately fired.

“If it can happen to me it can happen to any employee in that hospital,” Lin said.

The management at Huntington issued the following statement about the firings.

“We can confirm that Allysha Almada and Vicki Lin are no longer employed at Huntington Hospital.  Legally, we are unable to comment on the specifics of any personnel issue, however our guiding principles in decision making are based on ensuring patient safety – and providing quality patient care as a trusted community resource,” Gloria Sanchez-Rico, Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive said in an emailed statement.

RN’s Veena Fenn and Melinda Kiely both attended to support Lin and Almada. Kiely said that the talent of these two nurses now lost to HMH  may mean that in the future days, weeks, and months, there will be less experienced nurses or less staff delivering care in the ICU.

“The firing of Allysha and Vicki is not a coincidence, it’s a pattern of intimidation,” says Maria Aguirre, RN. “It’s unconscionable to treat nurses this way — especially right now while our hospital is in the middle of a care crisis with the pseudomonas bacteria outbreak.”

Representatives from unionized hospitals as well as Ed Honowitz from Senator Carol Liu’s office, Political Professor Peter Dreier, religious leader Marty Coleman attended the rally in support of the two terminated nurses.

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