Health & Medicine

Nurses demand the right ‘to have breaks’ in protests at Tenet hospitals across California

Nurses picketed outside Tenet-affiliated hospitals across California on Tuesday afternoon in a union-organized event meant to urge management to invest in nursing staff.

More than 3,700 registered nurses represented by the California Nurses Association at eight California hospitals are in ongoing contract negotiations that began in September 2018 with the Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

They’re looking for a contract that will improve recruitment and retention of experienced registered nurses and ensure optimal patient care, according to the CNA.

To Sherri Stoddard, a labor and delivery nurse at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, that means “not having nurses work mandatory overtime, nurses getting breaks, nurses getting rest periods, nurses getting lunches.”

“It’s about having enough nurses to be able to do what we need to do so that we can provide the care at the bedside that matters to us and to our patients,” she said.

Stoddard was joined Tuesday by dozens of her co-workers in front of Sierra Vista carrying signs that read “Nurses demand a fair contract now!” and “Nurses are the heart of patient care.”

Similar pickets were planned at hospitals in Templeton, Modesto, San Ramon, Turlock, Los Alamitos, Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.

According to the CNA, Tenet data show that the company’s hospitals are increasingly relying on “on-call” nurses for regularly scheduled procedures. On-call nurses are required to return to the hospital within 30 minutes, sometimes after they’ve already worked a full shift.

Nurses at Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree, San Ramon Regional Medical Center in San Ramon and Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton averaged more than 1,000 hours each on call in 2018, the CNA said in a news release. That same year, nurses at the eight hospitals in question missed more than 57,000 breaks, a 28% increase over 2016.

All of that can affect the quality of patient care and can lead to medical errors and injuries, nurses said.

“Taking care of patients is the most important thing,” said Michele Garcia, a registered nurse at Sierra Vista. “It’s our passion that’s what we came to be nurses for. That’s what we’re here for, just fighting for patient’s rights and their safety, and fighting for nurse’s rights to have breaks.“

“We are trying to protect nurses so they can get rest, because a rested nurse is a safe nurse,” Garcia said.

Tenet officials declined to comment Tuesday on the company’s increased reliance on on-call nurses, but said they are disappointed in the union’s actions.

“Our hospitals are fully operational and our staff’s focus, as always, is on providing exceptional quality patient care,” Todd Burke, director of communications for Tenet Healthcare in California, said in an email to The Tribune.

“We are disappointed that the union is taking this approach as it is not constructive or necessary,” Burke wrote. “We have made good progress toward a new contract with the union and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of reaching a successful resolution, without the need to disrupt our patients or staff in their mission.”

Nurses say the hospitals need more staffing to cover shifts instead of having them on call.

Hopefully, Garcia said, union representatives will be back at the bargaining table and able to secure a new contract soon.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune