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Wednesday, Jul 02 2014 10:37 AM

Hospital staff members take complaints to board

New facility completion date is July 2016

A contentious item rose up Wednesday night, June 25, during a board meeting of the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District as employees spoke up about poor treatment and cutbacks in the workplace.

Mary Whitlach, an radiologic technologist at the district, broached the subject first during the public comment period.

She called the workplace increasingly more stressful and cited poor communication.

"We have watched as decisions been made and failed time and time again," Whitlach said. "These decisions have had a negative impact on at TVHD."

Whitlach called the lack of communication concerning and "created an environment of fear." She also cited inappropriate comments from Chet Beadle, the interim chief financial officer and cuts that have created a gulf between staff and administration.

"We understand this is a business but the cuts do not add up," Whitlach said. "Cutting our water, meals, coffee, staff have a negative impact on patient care."

A call for accountability, explanation and increased communication was issued.

Rebecca Mateiro, a registered nurse with the hospital, noted as well the damage done to the cutbacks.

"The staffing cutbacks have affected lab results, E.R. patient wait times and even meal wait times," Materio said. "These cutbacks have even compromised the service we have provided to this community."

Betty Demus, who works in the clinical lab at Tehachapi Hospital, said that she understood the need for cuts.

"What I don't get and what most employees don't appreciate is that we are not talked to," Demus said. "There is a lack of communication on why the cuts are happening and a lack of respect."

She noted as well as a lack of communication with the community on the status of the hospital, whether it was the current one or the new one being constructed on Capital Hills Parkway.

A delay has occurred in the new hospital's construction with the recent dismissal of a concrete contractor, delaying its completion date and pushing its eventual opening out to July 2016, according to Evan Rayner, the outgoing interim chief executive officer.

In January 2013, just two months before groundbreaking for the new hospital was held on March 28, 2013, then CEO Alan Burgess said the facility was scheduled for completion in 2015. The completion date has been pushed out several times since then. In February of this year, Rayner said the construction project was 30 percent complete.

Staffing issues

In response to the staff complaints at the board meeting, Demus called for cooperation.

"Where we go from here means we need to work together," she said.

Rayner, the CEO, said that the healthcare district staffs according to industry standards.

"We staff according to state licenser code and we implement productivity standards as seen throughout the industry that help us manage our salaries, supplies and other items," Rayner said. "We would not be doing our job if we did not watch 60 percent of our expenses."

Rayner also noted that Tehachapi Hospital is a standby ER facility.

"We are staffed above code in our emergency room and no care is compromised," Rayner said. He added that patients leaving without being seeing has dropped from 3 percent to 2 percent month over month.

"We intend to improve that and that is indication of better efficiency through the emergency department," Rayner said.

Patient volume also accounts for staffing he said.

"Volume is what we have to staff to," Rayner said. He referenced the Kern Medical Center's recent planed layoff of 51 employees as a way to save money.

"These are areas we will continue to watch and will flex up when volume is up and flex down when volume is down," Rayner said.

He said this is communicated through department manager meetings and at quarterly forums, of which he said the last one only three or four employees appeared to have attended.

Beedle, the CFO, did not address charges of inappropriate emails.

Juliana Kirby, chief nursing officer, agreed that it was a very stressful time for the staff, what with new services coming in and moves happening.

"Change is stressful," Kirby said. "I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Kirby said the district has to be fiscally responsible for taxpayer dollars.

As a registered nurse, she has to be diligent about safety issues with staffing or nursing. If something was wrong, other administrators and the board would be hearing about it.

"I am very, very comfortable with the levels," Kirby said. She said her department is still working out the appropriate level needed.

"I have worked in the trenches at this hospital and I can tell you we are staffed more than we have been," Kirby said.

As far as water supplied to the staff, a perk of working at the hospital, has been handled by placing a reverse-osmosis water filter in the kitchens.

The staff members who had raised concerns over the staff objected, saying that the filtration system has been out for two weeks. Kirby acknowledged that one sink is out of commission but is being dealt with.

Kirby also said she had sent out a email notice that meal service for district staff has been temporarily cancelled to allow a temporary dietary manager to get a handle on that department.

"We are looking at what employees want, how we can serve them more efficiently and be fiscally responsible," Kirby said. "We have a lot of change and these are temporary measures."

She estimated a three week stay on meals for employees. Meals, she said, are paid for by the employees out their paychecks for those who sign up.

"We want to serve our employees but not to the point where there is this inefficiency," Kirby said.

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