A union representing nurses allege that city hospitals and clinics are routinely and systemically understaffed. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A union representing nurses allege that city hospitals and clinics are routinely and systemically understaffed. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Nurses sue city health department over understaffing, unpaid overtime

Nurses employed by the city of San Francisco on Thursday announced they’ve filed a lawsuit against the city’s Department of Public Health, accusing the department of violating federal labor laws.

According to officials with Service Employees International Union 1021, which represents the nurses, the city’s hospitals and clinics are systematically understaffed, leading to a high patient volume that puts both patients and nurses at risk, union officials said. In addition, the understaffing has resulted in nurses forced to work overtime without overtime pay.

Dual-status nurses, those who work both per diem shifts and civil servant appointed positions, are not getting paid overtime when they exceed 80 hours in a pay period. The overtime hours are instead classified as per diem hours, resulting in workers not getting overtime pay, according to the union.

Union officials allege that DPH’s current practice of not paying overtime has resulted in some 90,000 hours of unpaid overtime.

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of nurses rallied outside Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in support of the suit.

“The city as usual is failing to do its due diligence, which is to provide adequate staffing so we can deliver service to all patients,” SEIU 1021 Vice President Theresa Rutherford said at the rally. “This is happening all the hospitals; it’s happening at San Francisco General, at Laguna Honda, at the clinics, in the jails. This lawsuit is demanding that the city do the right thing.”

Jennifer Esteen, a register nurse employed with the city said, “DPH is fully aware that we need more nurses, more clinicians, more people to do the work. And by not paying people overtime, it seems like they’re continuing to manipulate the statistics; manipulating statistics of where patients are in the emergency in the room instead of going to hospital beds in the inpatient unit; manipulating statistics of where patients are in the psychiatric emergency room instead of going into the inpatient unit; manipulating the statistics of how many overtime hours are really being worked every single year; and manipulating the budget and where money comes from.”

Department of Public Health officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

-Daniel Montes, Bay City News

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