HFENs Continue to Fight for the Safety of All Californians at November Joint Labor Management Committee Meeting
The health and safety of every patient in California depends on the work of Health Facilities Evaluator Nurses (HFENs). While they have been working non-stop to ensure that health facilities follow State and Federal laws to protect the public, they have also been fighting for their own rights in the workplace. This struggle for safe workplaces and fair processes has been especially hard recently, as the pandemic and recovery efforts have created new challenges in health facilities across the state.
As SEIU Local 1000 members, HFENs provide crucial oversight to health facilities and ensure that standards that put a patient’s best interests first are upheld and fight against practices that cut corners in ways that harm patients. Throughout the pandemic, HFENs have been fighting to ensure particular practices, such as sufficient nurse staffing, COVID-19 safety measures, and services to protect patients from abuse in hospitals have been in place.
However, in spite of the crucial role that HFENs play in maintaining our health infrastructure, the Department of Public Health (CDPH) has put new pressures on these workers. These new pressures have created issues, including poor HFEN retention numbers, management ignoring the need for HFEN reclassification, including the need for a robust HFEN salary package, and, most critically, the lack of a fair process for handling biased complaints against HFENs from facilities that have tried to cut corners. These workplace issues have driven these members to act using some of the powerful tools Local 1000-represented employees have to improve working conditions and other work-related issues.
A group of HFENs from the Statewide HFENs United (SHU, which includes HFENs across California fighting for HFEN rights and concerns), met with State Labor Relations staff to address high priority HFEN concerns at a Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) meeting on November 3, 2021.
The JLMC agenda included a discussion of reclassification and salary, retention and vacancy rates, and how to address the failure of the State to provide a fair process for handling facility/entity complaints against HFENs. In the course of these meetings with the State, HFENs brought forward testimonies highlighting the critical issues they are facing in the workplace, finally bringing to light the common experiences and crises that they face every day on the job.
The pressure and stress created by the state’s quota system and refusal to address vacancy rates has resulted in what one HFEN referred to as a “scramble trying to close complaints without doing the quality investigation that nursing home residents and their families deserve.” This quota system has deteriorated to the point where one HFEN noted that “they have told us to close them before we are even done investigating it.”
One HFEN’s testimony highlighted how staffing problems led to these dropped investigations. Since she was assigned to multiple projects simultaneously on conflicting timelines, she “…informed my manager that [since] I won’t be able to finish my write up immediately and therefore be unable to meet the 10-day timeline, she mentioned that I should drop my findings.” Ending an investigation prematurely was so surprising to this HFEN that “initially I thought she was not serious about dropping the findings [… until] she sent an e-mail [confirming] it.”
This crisis has been manufactured by the State’s mismanagement and failure to take seriously the need for more HFEN staff and provide clear communication regarding expectations. Combined with a lack of focus on HFEN retention, this has created a void in the department, leading to an inability to keep up with work demands, while ignoring the need for HFEN reclassification and the need for a robust salary package. The JLMC and HFEN representatives know this is a long-recognized issue and needs to be addressed immediately.
The other major concern addressed at the JLMC was the issue of the inherently facility-biased complaint system used against HFENs. It is well known that facilities will complain against a HFEN to try to circumvent investigations and avoid real issues that the facility needs to correct, in the hopes that the Department will drop the findings or reduce the associated penalty amount.
This unfair process has caused HFENs undue suffering on and off the job, feeling like they have one eye looking over their shoulder while they try to focus on the critical work in front of them.
One HFEN’s testimony at the JLMC talked about how “a lot of facilities are very disrespectful to us, constantly asking when are we going to leave the facility. They spy on us.”
This issue is not only impacting the quality of HFENs work, but having an impact on the state as a whole. “Facilities should already know that we do these surveys and inspections to ensure that the money the government is giving these facilities for the residents is being used to provide quality of care and life to vulnerable populations,” read one HFEN testimony.
The HFENs brought a list of asks to this JLMC, which was given to Labor Management to get this process moving and to finally address these issues. They are asking for a set of clear, fair, and written processes to create statewide consistency to reduce workplace grievances and create a safety net for patients, while holding facilities accountable to the standards that HFENs and the Department of Public Health are trusted to uphold. All of these issues were discussed with the HFEN JLMC members and Labor Relations representatives. The JLMC meeting, concluded with Labor Relations agreeing to come back with answers.
SEIU Local 1000 and the Statewide HFENs United are waiting to find out what proposals are coming from the State, and will keep members updated and apprised of next steps if an acceptable resolution is not met. As union members and the backbone of our public health institutions, HFENs across the state are committed to resolving this crisis brewing in our healthcare facilities and are ready to continue fighting, negotiating, and bringing to light the truth of this system.
Please continue sending your questions, comments, and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. We read each email and try to respond accordingly in our updates. In addition, if you have any individual or group issues you need help with, please call the SEIU Local 1000 Member Resource Center (MRC) at 866.471.SEIU (7348).