San Jose emergency doctors quit due to staffing shortages
Valley Medical Center emergency workers walked off the job Tuesday to protest staffing shortages among doctors and unsafe working conditions during the county’s largest COVID-19 surge.
About 30 healthcare workers showed up outside the VMC emergency department to protest a month-long glitch that has scared off doctors and caused long wait times for people with imminent needs. For many patients, the average wait is between eight and 2 hours, doctors and nurses at Valley Medical Center said.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said an emergency physician at Valley Medical Center in San Jose Spotlight. “I feel like someone is going to hurt themselves. I think people have probably done it before, and that’s what keeps us up at night.
San José Spotlight does not name healthcare workers because they fear possible retaliation.
A worker outside the VMC said the emergency department had suffered for years, but things got worse when US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) took over doctors’ contracts in 2021.
“Most of us have to work overtime,” the worker said. “We’ve lost so many amazing doctors over the past few years, but especially over the past six months.”
The protesting workers want the county to hire the doctors as county employees or find a local company to manage the doctors. Rally workers said USACS has a bad reputation in the medical industry for putting profits before patient care.
Paul Lorenz, CEO of Valley Medical Center, said VMC is always focused on patient care and the staff shares that priority.
“Part of what makes the SCVMC Emergency Department successful is the collegiality of the staff, the support within and between the team, which is why I am confident that we can work together to respond to any concerns while continuing to provide excellent patient care,” he said. Spotlight on San José.
Since June, out of a staff of more than 60, three part-time physicians have left the site, in addition to three part-time medical assistants and one full-time medical assistant, according to Matt Patlovany, MD and clinical director of USACS.
“More recently, there has been pressure from a local competing system to recruit valley doctors from offsite,” Patlovany said. “Nevertheless, San Jose is an attractive place to live and Valley is an attractive place to work. Recruiting on this site is not an excessive challenge.
As health care workers enter the third year of the pandemic, they said the county and its contractor that handles ER doctors have failed to address serious staffing and salary concerns over the past few years. past six months, further demoralizing an already exhausted and overworked workforce.
“We don’t want people to call us heroes,” an emergency nurse from Valley Medical Center told San Jose Spotlight. “We just want to come to work and do our job, so support us and give us all the resources we need.”
Tension between emergency health care workers and the medical group, USACS, which oversees Valley Medical Center’s ER doctors, has been simmering for months. In 2017, Santa Clara County contracted Valley Emergency Physicians to provide emergency physicians to county hospitals. When USACS acquired Valley Emergency Physicians last year, some workers saw a pay cut related to employee classifications. Workers say the National Medical Group has resisted requests for additional staff during peak hours.
When USACS acquired Valley Emergency Physicians last year, the National Medical Group began to dramatically cut doctors’ pay and resisted demands for additional staff during peak hours.
Emergency personnel have been drowning in work since USACS reduced the team of doctors to a skeletal team, a nurse with more than 10 years of experience at VMC told San Jose Spotlight. Doctors also routinely stay on for hours past their shifts to help fill service gaps, workers said.
“We’re just hammering each other,” the nurse said. “We’re packed.”
A doctor who spoke to San Jose Spotlight on condition of anonymity said doctors who transition from contractor status to USACS employee have their salaries reduced by 15%. New doctors hired by USACS will receive the same discounted rate, and VMC emergency doctors are already the lowest-paid emergency doctors in the Bay Area. Doctors cannot take sick leave, even if they are exposed to COVID, because there is no one on call who could cover a shift. Sources say ERs are currently being handled by two doctors a day.
Persistently low staffing levels and poor working conditions have led to an exodus of doctors, workers at the center told San José Spotlight. The revolving door has left the department in a constant state of instability.
“It’s not an environment where you should be hiring new people all the time,” the nurse said, adding that even very experienced doctors need time to settle in and get comfortable with the complicated hospital system. . “You can’t have an (emergency department) where you come in every day (and) it’s a new doctor.”
Rescue workers told the San Jose Spotlight that USACS also abruptly removed department head Dr. Jeffrey Chien two weeks ago after he advocated for the company to restore pay levels for doctors. and adds more physicians during busy shifts. The withdrawal threw the department into chaos, said the doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“His shot ignited a flame,” the doctor said, adding that Dr Chien was a strong advocate for patients and other hospital workers. “Laying him off abruptly during one of the biggest COVID surges we’ve seen is truly mismanagement and concerning.”
As Santa Clara County experiences the largest increase in COVID infections since the pandemic began, the need for emergency medical care has exploded at county hospitals. Although adequately resourced, emergency rooms at Valley Medical Center have been unable to meet the needs of the community.
“Sometimes we have over 40 patients in our waiting room,” the nurse said, adding that this doesn’t include residents flooding the ER for COVID tests. “We have people who are hounding. Can you believe that? It’s not good.
Because the doctors are under contract with USACS, there is little the county can do, health care workers said. But emergency physicians at Valley Medical Center are pushing for the county to cut ties with USACS, whose contract is set to expire Feb. 6.
“USACS did not have the best interests of the county in mind,” the doctor said. “And it really came at the expense of patient care.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.