By Carlos Aviles
The 900 technical specialists and professionals at Temple University Hospital represent 62 departments and more than 100 disciplines – everything from X-ray to social work to pharmaceutical services to lab. We’re trained professionals who work as part of a healthcare team, providing critical, indispensable services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to patients and to the nurses who care for them. Without us, patients can’t get the care they need, and the hospital can’t function. We are indisputably needed but we are not valued by the administration we serve.
Early this year, the state legislature gave hospitals across the commonwealth $225 million in American Rescue Plan funds specifically to be used for retention and recruitment of the “direct care workers” who had carried their communities (and their facilities) through the worst pandemic of our lifetimes. Temple’s portion of the pie was $1.6 million, which they divided up and distributed as retention bonuses. Myself, along with 10 percent of my colleagues, were deemed ineligible.
I’m a certified pharmacy technician. During the worst pandemic surges, when Temple Hospital was overrun with deathly ill COVID patients, my colleagues and I delivered medication 10 to 14 times an hour to COVID-heavy areas throughout the hospital. I would receive calls late at night to come to the hospital to stage Pyxis machines (automated medication dispensing machines) in hallways, in lobbies, anywhere overflow patients were housed. I did it gladly. We were fighting a war, and patients needed me. Yet according to Temple, I don’t provide direct patient care. I’m just a delivery guy.
Other Philadelphia-area hospitals reached into their own pockets and supplemented the state appropriation with some of their own funds to make sure all of their frontline caregivers – even those who didn’t qualify as “direct caregivers” per the state definition – received the retention bonus. Temple did not. It isn’t like they couldn’t afford it.
Temple Hospital made millions off the efforts of the front line during the pandemic. Yet they’ve invested very little in quality-of-care issues like safe staffing, workplace violence prevention and resources and protections for caregivers, all of which would help them retain workers. In fact, Temple was the most profitable major hospital in the city of Philadelphia in 2020, yet over the last three years, the hospital’s workforce (a measure of full-time employees per “adjusted occupied bed”) has declined by 15 percent.
They’ve opened up their wallets – but not for the staff who made them millions. They’ve bought new hospitals instead.
One of my favorite quotes begins, “There is no better teacher than adversity.” It’s true: I’ve learned a lot over the last two and a half years. I’ve learned how it feels to be treated like an expendable resource. To not have your work – the work you literally risked your life to do – valued.
I’ve learned that chronic understaffing in a hospital is a killer. When hospitals aren’t staffed safely and healthcare workers struggle daily with heavy, unsafe assignments and are compensated with neither money nor respect, they leave the job, and the understaffing – along with the care a hospital offers – becomes worse. Of my colleagues, 122 have left the job just since October. Many more left before that.
We still choose – those of us who are left – to go to work every day and give the greatest effort possible to save lives, because that’s our job and that’s our purpose. We have deeply rooted relationships with the health system and with the community it serves. We have worked hard to serve our patients and we’ll continue to. But we don’t want to do so as sacrificial lambs.
At the end of the day, this story – my story – is a story about corporate greed. They use us in a life-threatening situation to keep the facility, the neighborhood and the community afloat. Then, when it comes time to recognize us for our services, they turn their backs. They buy another hospital. They buy two.
Where’s the gratitude and compassion for the heart and soul of this institution? Where is the care? ••
Carlos Aviles is a certified pharmacy technician at Temple University Hospital and president of Temple Allied Professionals, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). PASNAP represents more than 9,000 frontline caregivers across the state and was founded on the belief that patients receive the best care when clinical-care staff have a strong voice to advocate for both patients and themselves.