53 nurses allege labor violations at Twin Cities Community Hospital

More than 50 nurses at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton filed administrative claims against the hospital over alleged labor law violations.
More than 50 nurses at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton filed administrative claims against the hospital over alleged labor law violations. David Middlecamp

A law firm representing nurses at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton says 53 nurses on Monday filed claims against the hospital, alleging widespread violations of California labor laws by hospital administrators seeking to cut costs and increase profits.

Administrative claims represent only one side of the story and typically precede a civil lawsuit. Should the claims be rejected, the nurses could then file civil litigation in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson declined to comment on the specific allegations because of the possibility for litigation and because of a similar ongoing lawsuit filed in March 2015. But Yukelson wrote in an email Friday: “We have and will continue to defend the hospital against the pending action. Twin Cities Community Hospital staffs based on patient need and in accordance with state laws. We are committed to providing safe, high-quality care to every patient.”

The hospital is owned by Texas-based Tenet Healthcare. A Tenet corporate spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

In a news release, San Luis Obispo-based employment law firm Baltodano & Baltodano LLP said 53 Twin Cities nurses are alleging that hospital administration deliberately understaffs its departments, preventing nurses from taking state-mandated breaks because of mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios.

“Supervisors instructed nurses to take breaks by simply walking away from their patients, without providing a ‘break nurse’ to ensure proper coverage,” the law firm stated. “Even though nurses have raised these issues with management repeatedly since 2010, the hospital has failed to remedy the problems identified in the lawsuit, prompting a much larger group of nurses to file their own additional claims today.”

The law firm said that the California Department of Health found in 2013 that Twin Cities was understaffed in violation of the nurse-to-patient ratio, resulting in “patients’ pain medication not being given in a timely manner” and patients experiencing “increased falls.”

The news release cited statements by three Twin Cities nurses, including Kim Emard, who has reportedly worked at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit since 1994. Emard said she has returned from breaks to find her patients unsupervised with IV medication drips empty.

In other cases, she said she has returned to find that patients have pulled out their own catheters and were sitting in their own urine and feces.

“We have asked for help; (hospital administrators) keep promising to hire more nurses, but it just doesn’t happen,” she said, according to the news release.

The claims follow the filing of a lawsuit against the hospital in March 2015 in which nine nurses alleged that they were denied rest breaks and had their overtime and missed break pay incorrectly calculated, depriving them of “thousands of dollars in hard-earned wages.”

“Nurses who do not receive proper breaks are tired and less effective. This status quo is completely unacceptable,” the lawsuit reads. “The purpose of this lawsuit is to change the culture of the hospital so that nurses receive proper breaks and patients receive proper care.”

The lawsuit also states that in 2008, the hospital adopted an “alternative workweek schedule” providing nurses with a predictable schedule of three 12-hour days per week. In exchange, the hospital is not required to pay nurses overtime premiums for the ninth to 12th hour of work.

The hospital failed to live up to its end of the bargain, the lawsuit states, assigning nurses with “erratic and unpredictable” schedules, frequently putting nurses on-call and ordering them to leave early when the number of patients went down.

That case isn’t scheduled to begin trial until September 2017, court records show.