St. Joseph Health lays off dozens of employees in Humboldt, chief executive responds


Just two days after workers at St. Joseph Health protested for better staffing conditions at two Humboldt County hospitals, St. Joseph Health sent out letters to some employees, informing them of an intent to reduce its workforce via layoffs.

Marketing and Communications Manager Christian Hill confirms that the St. Joseph Health-Humboldt County's Human Resources department sent the following letter to one staff member:

"Staffing is dangerously low now," Union Steward Allen McCloskey said. "St. Joseph Health should be committed to growing and retaining jobs, which are so incredibly vital to a healthy local economy, a physically healthy community and better quality of life for our families."

The layoffs take up about 2.6 percent of St. Joseph Health's workforce in Humboldt County, according to St. Joseph Health Marketing and Communications Manager Christian Hill. The eliminations include termination of staff members at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna.

"In a retaliatory fashion the hospital this morning started serving various employees across a wide range of departments across the hospital with layoff notices including my dept in the laboratory, the progressive cardiac unit, a good number of pharmacy techs at Redwood Memorial have been let go," McCloskey said.

The hospital administration denies that the eliminations were part of any retaliatory move as a result of the protest.

"We've been working on this for months," the hospital's Chief Executive Roberta Luskin-Hawk told North Coast News. "They saw that we were being more deliberate on how we did our sick policy, so they knew that. And we got other communication from them that made pretty clear that they knew that we were going to do some position eliminations, and so I'm sure that's why they were out there."

Union members, who already have declared a staffing crisis, are now expressing even more concern about patient care.

"We are going to be calling on St. Joseph Health to cease this retaliatory behavior and the blatant disregard for the safety of our patients," McCloskey said. He and other union members are calling for the public to contact the hospital's president and Sen. Mike McGuire to provide feedback on the layoffs.

St. Joseph's chief executive cited several accolades that the hospital has received, further arguing their case that the hospital is in good standing.

"We have extraordinarily positive results because of teams of people working together to take care of patients," Luskin-Hawk said. "Leap Frog is a safety score, an external body; they take a look at us, and again, we're getting strong scores from them." Leap Frog shows St. Joseph Hospital of Eureka as earning an overall "B" rating for hospital safety.

Lesley Ester is a registered nurse and representative with the California Nurses' Association. She argues the validity of the rating.

"Their Leap Frog score I believe is self-reported it's not something that I follow because I'm not sure that it's actually a good indicator of anything." Ester is adamant that there is a staffing crisis. "If you come into my unit and you have a new diagnosis of diabetes and I sit down with you and I discuss your diet and your exercise, and the way that you should treat yourself at home, you trust me, and you go home and do that. If I'm telling you right now that I see a problem in our community hospital, I'm asking you to trust me."

"There's no staffing crisis. We are actively recruiting for key positions. We've seen achievement of enhanced patient safety and quality metrics...we have extraordinarily positive results because of teams of people working together to take care of patients," Luskin-Hawk said.

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