Walkout to Target Bay Area Sutter Hospitals, Long Beach Memorial; Nurses Cite Patient Care Issues, Cuts in Healthcare Coverage
CALIFORNIA–(ENEWSPF)–December 13, 2011. Nurses are poised to hold a one-day strike at California’s second largest private hospital, and one of its most profitable corporate hospital chain December 22.
The strike will affect 2,000 RNs at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, and 4,000 RNs who work at eight Bay Area hospitals that are part of the Sutter corporation.
Long Beach RNs have been at odds with hospital management for months over assuring there is safe RN-to-patient staffing at all times. The nurses will also protest hospital demands for sweeping increases in healthcare premiums for nurses. The health care takeaway the hospital is pushing would cost RNs nearly $3,000 more out of pocket in premium costs.
“Nurses are tired of having to fight everyday to protect their patients because of speed up and cost cutting measures,” said Long Beach RN Margie Keenan.
“We are finding it harder to give the quality care we want to give when our employer, like insurance companies, is only focused on the bottom line,” said Keenan. “This undermines our ability to deliver safe patient care. Our serious safety concerns have not been answered at the bargaining table and we will not be able to reach an agreement until they are addressed. Patients are more important than the bottom line.”
For the Sutter hospitals, this will be the second work stoppage following a one-day strike in September that was prompted by nearly 200 demands for major contract concessions made by the hospital giant despite amassing over $3.7 billion in profits since 2005.
Since the walkout, nurses have met with management officials repeatedly, ten negotiations just at Alta Bates Summit, but there has been little progress with Sutter continuing to press a hard line for cuts that would erode safety standards and further engorge company profits with little benefit for patients, RNs say. System wide, more than 150 takeaway demands remain on the table, nearly 100 at Alta Bates Summit alone.
Sutter continues to push changes that would RNs’ their ability to effectively advocate for patients against the budget-focused priorities of Sutter managers and effectively force nurses to work when sick, dangerously exposing extremely ill patients to infection.
The one-day Bay Area walkout will affect Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo, Eden Medical Center hospitals in Castro Valley and San Leandro, Sutter Delta in Antioch, and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.
Sutter’s proposal to eliminate sick leave will force nurses to come to work sick which will further jeopardize our fragile patients, “ said Hebron Viray, oncology RN at Alta Bates’ Berkeley campus.
At Alta Bates Summit, Sutter has added a new concession demand, to end any collective voice for charges who make clinical assignments of a collective voice, eliminating their ability to speak out on staffing problems without fear of retaliation, as well as requiring them to take on additional patient assignments, further eroding already under staffed units for patients.
“Sutter’s proposal to eliminate charge nurses threatens high-quality patient care and our ability to maintain patient safety and patient advocacy,” said Teresa Mullen, a charge nurse at the Oakland campus of Alta Bates Summit.
Additionally, Sutter RNs oppose management’s bid to reduce nurses’ healthcare coverage, with huge increases in nurses’ out-of-pocket costs for health coverage, elimination of health benefits for part-time RNs, and other cuts that would result in thousands of dollars in economic loss for RNs. All at a time when Sutter is sitting on $11.6 billion in assets and paying salaries of over $1 million a year to 20 top executives none of whom provide bedside care.
“We told our management that we would pledge not to strike if they pledged to not put takeaways on the table. They would not make that commitment. They are the ones who are forcing us into this situation. We must stick together to fight on behalf of our standards and our patients,” said Sutter Solano (Vallejo) RN Rowena Modesto.
Long Beach RNs have been working without a contract since September 30 and held a candlelight vigil attended by more than 400 RNs last month to emphasize their concerns.
Nurses are particularly alarmed about their ability to take meal and rest breaks during which the hospital frequently does not have sufficient staff to meet minimum safety standards required by California law.
The nurses want the hospital to provide additional resource RNs to guarantee nurses can safely take their breaks without worrying about their patients safety, or having to continue working without breaks while fatigued and more prone to making mistakes.
“When the hospital does not staff to provide meals and breaks for nurses, it is detrimental to patient care. Our patients require and deserve to have the continued care they expect from our hospital,” said Long Beach RN. Allison Miller.
Another contentious issue is lift practices. The RNs want the hospital to assure a safe patient lift policy to reduce the large numbers of musculoskeletal injuries among nurses and other staff, and to limit patient falls, accidents and pressure ulcers.
Despite the enactment of a state law signed by Gov. Brown in October requiring all California hospitals to have a safe patient handling policy, including lift teams trained to lift patients using proper equipment, Long Beach has continued to stall, putting nurses and patients at risk, say the RNs.
“We need to make improvements at LBMMC/MCH and it has been difficult to make corrections of practices that have been ingrained for years,” said Long Beach RN Mary Bailey.