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'Exhausted, disheartened' Valley Medical Center doctors reach the breaking point

Valley Medical Center doctors reach breaking point citing health care system failures
Valley Medical Center doctors reach breaking point citing health care system failures, pandemic 02:28

SAN JOSE (KPIX) - After months of stress and feeling overworked and underpaid, South Bay health care workers are reaching the breaking point. 

On Tuesday, doctors at Valley Medical Center in San Jose gathered to demand Santa Clara County officials take action to address what they call a failing health care system that's putting doctor and patient lives at risk.

"To still be very much in the pandemic and then to have management say you're not working hard enough," said Pediatric Gastroenterologist Dr. Rachel Ruiz.

The Gilroy native said she is now rethinking her career because of how tough her job at Valley Medical Center has become.

"My family from Gilroy and San Jose are so proud. But I feel like it's made me rethink my 5-year plan, my ten-year plan because this is not sustainable," Ruiz said.

Ruiz joined dozens of her medical staff colleagues to call attention to staff shortages and systemic management problems that are leading to doctors being burned out.

"The physicians and hospital staff at VMC reacted bravely to the pandemic but we're exhausted. We're disheartened," said trauma surgeon Dr. Gregg Adams.

In May, a VMC doctor committed suicide in their medical center office. Last week, another doctor attempted suicide.

"It's too many in such a short period of time," Dr. Ruiz said.

Doctors say the staff shortages are also affecting patient care, especially for non-emergency services.

One patient we spoke with said it can take months to see a doctor.

"If your doctor refers you to a specialist, it can take 3 months to get an appointment," said patient Dean Landon.

Hospital and county managers declined to comment on the doctor's concerns but one other physician said the problems can be traced to cost-cutting and dollar stretching.

"Health care decisions are being made by people with no medical training, by people who do spread sheets with dollar signs on them," said Radiologist Dr. Praveen Anchala.

VMC doctors have been working without a contract for two years and say the work is piling up but pay raises are not.

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