Highland Hospital in Oakland. (Photo courtesy of NeoBatfreak via Wikipedia)

Alameda Health System workers rallied at Highland Hospital in Oakland on Thursday to demand that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors take control of and manage the health system, alleging that it’s been damaged by pervasive and ongoing mismanagement.

They said the problems at the health system, which oversees Highland, San Leandro Hospital, Alameda Hospital and other facilities, are being magnified while county health workers respond to the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

John Pearson, an emergency room nurse at Highland Hospital who’s a chapter president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 3,600 workers in the health system, said, “We’re here today to let the public know that we have a crisis and this is not a crisis that just started with the coronavirus.”

‘We are in no way prepared’ for surge of COVID-19 patients

Pearson said, “We don’t have the equipment, staffing and beds we need just to take care of the patients we already have now and when we get a surge of patients because of this huge global health crisis and pandemic we are in no way prepared for that surge of patients because we don’t have the basic things we need.”

Pearson said, “Masks are being rationed. Cleaning supplies are being diluted. We’re being told to abandon and change processes and protocols that we have been trained to follow for years.”

Pearson alleged, “One Alameda Health System manager told us recently that this was just ‘business as usual.’ In this crisis, business as usual will get people killed.”

Mawata Kamara, an emergency room nurse, said, “In the years that I have worked at San Leandro Hospital I have witnessed the deficiencies of, ranking from utter indifference to patient safety to a blatant disregard for their frontline health care workers.”

Kamara said, “It’s clear to us as front-line workers that a systemic change needs to happen immediately if we want to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Equipment, staffing issues raised

SEIU Local 1021 leaders said the health system’s management has been criticized for failing to equip its hospitals properly with adequate personal protective equipment, for refusing to add staff to keep up with demand and for allowing unsanitary conditions across the system, raising the possibility of spreading the coronavirus.

Earlier this week the Alameda Labor Council called on the Board of Supervisors to take control of the Alameda Health System to protect the public.

Elizabeth Ortega-Toro, the labor council’s executive secretary-treasurer, said at the rally, “We’re calling on the Board of Supervisors to do something about the inequality that’s happening in our healthcare system.”

She said, “We’re asking the board not to wait to take action so the lives of our first responders are taken seriously and the lives of our community are literally saved.”

A spokesperson for the Alameda Health System didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.