Registered nurses at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital will hold a one-day strike Thursday, Dec. 22 to protest the hospital’s ongoing hard-line stance in contract talks on critical patient care issues and demands for substantial increases in healthcare costs for the nurses, even though the hospital’s costs for health coverage for nurses has not risen.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents 2,000 RNs at Long Beach, the state’s second-largest private hospital.
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 RNs have been working without a contract since Sept. 30 and held a candlelight vigil attended by more than 400 RNs last month to emphasize their concerns.
“Nurses are tired of having to fight every day 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.”
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 maneuver 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.
“Our administration ignores basic and standard workplace protections and snubs the laws put into place to protect patients and nurses,” Bailey said.
The RNs charge that Long Beach administration has put its push for greater profits and revenue ahead of the best interests of patients, nurses, and the community. Hospital officials have rejected RN proposals despite having posted record profits in recent years, nearly tripling its profits from $52.7 million in 2009 to $135.6 million in 2010 while furloughing needed nurses.
Despite these gains, LBMMC has offered contract proposals that are inferior to Southern California standards. The hospital also wants to make sweeping increases in healthcare premiums for nurses. The healthcare takeaway the hospital is demanding would cost RNs nearly $3,000 more out of pocket in premium costs.