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Pomona hospital workers say they were pressured to stay silent about dirty conditions

Pomona Hospital Workers speak out about unsafe conditions
Over 300 healthcare workers and supporters rallied in front of Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center on Oct. 19, 2016. The workers have voted to unionize, but management has challenged the vote.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Six workers at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center say management tried to keep them from speaking out about possible patient infections and unsafe working conditions by asking them to sign confidentiality agreements.

The hospital had requested interviews with the workers after they spoke to The Times about their fears that patients were being sickened by dirty conditions that management had ignored.

A union that has been trying to organize the hospital’s workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last week, saying management was breaking federal law by trying to stop the workers from talking about potentially dangerous conditions.

Kristen Stevens, Pomona Valley’s director of quality management, confirmed the hospital asked the workers to sign the confidentiality agreements after it began looking into their complaints at the request of the Joint Commission, a group that accredits health facilities.

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But Stevens said the workers were not required to sign the agreement. “It was voluntary,” she said.

Stevens said it wasn’t the hospital’s intention to stop them from speaking publicly.

The hospital workers voted in January to join the Service Employees International Union, but management has challenged the vote.

Last month, the union released a report with workers responsible for cleaning operating rooms and other areas detailing what they said were unsafe practices. The workers said they had not been properly trained in infection control despite their complaints to management.

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The report pointed to state and federal data showing that Pomona Valley had higher patient infection rates in some categories than the national average. From 2012 to 2014, 19 patients infected with the lethal bacteria Clostridium difficile during their hospital stay soon died, the report said.

Stevens said the hospital’s infection rates had recently fallen. “The data is old,” she said.

melody.petersen@latimes.com

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