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Fountain Valley Regional Hospital employees are railing against the parent company, Tenet Healthcare, for failing to directly hire certain staff and instead outsourcing workers who say that leads to subpar health insurance and low wages.

It comes after a worker died and a scathing report on the hospital’s working conditions by state officials last year.

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Tomasa Miguel, who cleans the coronavirus units at the hospital, said she had to drive to Mexico to get dental work done because she exceeded her limit on her current insurance plan.

“It’s killing me,” Miguel said, adding she still can’t get a primary care doctor under her current medical plan.

Miguel is one of many employees who are subcontracted through Compass.

Lanelle Anderson, who works food services for the hospital, said she’s paid a “below poverty wage” due to working through Compass. 

Anderson said she sends roughly half of her paycheck to the Philippines to help take care of her family, who she said doesn’t get government help during the pandemic. 

She also said the hospital still doesn’t offer virus testing to employees and instead directs people to their primary care physicians. 

“They treat us like we’re second class,” Anderson said. “Without all of us, this place wouldn’t run.

Fountain Vally Hospital workers protest outside the main entrance on May 6, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Most of the subcontracted workers interviewed make roughly $15 an hour, despite some being there for more than four years.

Tenet Health Care representatives claim  the dispute is between Compass and the National Union of Healthcare Workers. 

“This is not about Tenet or Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. It’s about a negotiation strictly between the NUHW and the Compass Group, which is a vendor that provides a range of food, laundry and other support services to hospitals,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer in a Thursday email. 

Employees like Anderson and Miguel — along with their union representatives — said Tenet should stop subcontracting employees and hire them on with the rest of the workers, like nursing assistants and specialists. 

Bayer said hospital management is taking safety precautions for workers.

“At all times, our main concern is the safety of our staff, the integrity of our facilities and the best possible outcomes for our patients, and we remain hopeful that the NUHW and Compass will reach a positive outcome at the conclusion of their respective negotiations,” she said. 

It’s not the first time workers have rallied outside the Fountain Valley hospital. 

Last July, employees railed against what they said were unsafe working conditions that led to a series of coronavirus outbreaks among staff. They said not enough protective equipment was provided and management wasn’t separating virus patients from non-virus patients.

Their concerns led to a scathing September report from state officials.

“The [governing body] failed to ensure an effective, active hospital-wide infection control program for prevention, control and investigation of infections and communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” reads the report from the California Department of Public Health. 

Investigators also found hospital management allowed virus patients and non-virus patients to  mix, potentially causing outbreaks — something numerous employees publicly said was happening for months leading up to the investigation. 

“The hospital failed to ensure the monitoring of COVID-19 patients room placement to be physically separated from the non-COVID-19 patients and assignment of the dedicated staff as per the hospital’s [policy and procedure],” investigators found. 

Hospital officials at the time said they submitted a “plan of correction” to the state health department.

Fountain Vally Hospital workers protest outside the main entrance on May 6, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Some Fountain Valley Regional Hospital employees have previously said they contracted the virus and spread it to their families. 

In November, an employee died from the virus and his daughter said hospital supervisors told him to come to work, despite testing positive for the virus. 

At the time, hospital representatives said they were following all state protocols and pulling temperature checks on employees before they were allowed into the hospital. 

Now, National Union of Healthcare Worker representatives say Tenet Healthcare has been making increased profits during the pandemic. 

Fountain Valley Regional Hospital was also given the most coronavirus bailout money of any other hospital — $2.9 million in federal CARES Act money last year. 

Meanwhile, Orange County’s hospitalizations have remained relatively stable the past few days. 

As of Thursday, 91 people were hospitalized, including 23 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 4,992 people — more than nine times the flu does on a yearly average. 

COVID deaths surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC. 

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest state health data.

According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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