(Photo by Luis Villa on Wikipedia)

Dozens of registered nurses rallied outside of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on April 23 to draw attention to what they say is increased pressure on the city’s public health services.

The nurses, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021, are currently in contract negotiations with the city and want the city to address persistent understaffing at hospitals and to invest in supportive mental health programs.

Cuts to those programs over the years coupled with understaffing at the city’s hospitals have resulted in a failure to treat the needs of patients who are chronically homeless, according to the nurses.

“They (homeless patients) have a lot of needs; they have medical needs, they have psychiatric needs. A lot of them need constant attention and supervision and there just isn’t staffing for it,” said Meg Brizzolara, a psychiatric emergency nurse who has worked at San Francisco General Hospital for 32 years.

“This hospital takes patients that are uninsured. … Here they don’t have to have anything and they have all kinds of medical problems; they have housing problems; social problems,” she said.

Nato Green, a campaign coordinator for SEIU Local 1021, is currently involved in negotiations with the city for a new contract for the nurses as well as other city workers.

“The nurses are deeply concerned about understaffing and recruitment and retention,” Green said. “The city has made this huge focus on services for people who are homeless with mental health and addiction issues. But these are the people who provide these services and they’re all maxed-out.”

Because of chronic understaffing and retention and recruitment problems, the city currently employs about 400 per diem nurses who are not permanent fulltime workers, according to Green.

“Unfortunately we have a hospital that is running on temp workers in all of the patient care positions,” he said.

Green is hoping that a new contract for the nurses can address those issues.

“We believe that with this mayor and this Board of Supervisors, with all of the wealth that is in this city, these problems should be problems we can solve if there was political will to do it,” he said.