‘The nurses are together’: 500 strike in SLO County to demand more hiring

A horde of nurses bedecked in red took to the streets outside Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center on Friday, demanding the attention of both the county and their employer, Tenet Healthcare.

More than 500 SLO County nurses with the California Nursing Association went on strike on Friday, from both the San Luis Obispo hospital and Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, as the nursing union pushed for more hiring and better recruitment to cut down on overtime and nurse fatigue.

“Our job is about patient care,” retired labor and delivery nurse Sherri Stoddard told The Tribune from the picket line on Friday. “Exhaustion is never good for us, and it’s never good for our patients. We want enough nurses on the floor for us to be able to do the kind of optimal nursing care that’s in our hearts.”

Stoddard sits on the board of directors for the California Nurses Association.

“We are taking care of the patients, and we need to make sure we are doing it up to our standards — how we would want to be taken care of, how we would want our family members to be taken care of,” she added.

About 160 nurses and supporters picketed in front of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo on Friday, demanding more hiring and better contracts from their employer, Tenet Healthcare. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

At midday Friday, roughly 160 nurses from Sierra Vista and supporters stood outside the hospital on the corner of Santa Rosa Street and Murray Avenue, holding signs and chanting that quintessential rallying cry: “What do we want?” (In their case: “fair contract.”) Cars honked as they drove past, and pedestrians stopped to ask the exuberantly cheerful group what was happening.

“We’ve got our community — our community is our patients, our patients are our community,” Stoddard later told the assembled crowd of nurses and supporters. “Patients are here, community members, family and friends are here, and our brothers and sisters from other unions are here to support us as we always support them.”

“We are together — the nurses are together,” she yelled into a makeshift megaphone, prompting cheers from the sea of red.

Sherri Stoddard, center, rallies the assembled crowd of nurses and supporters during a strike FRiday in front of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Friday’s strike was part of a larger protest organized for eight Tenet-owned hospitals across California, as well as some in Arizona and Florida. All together, roughly 7,000 nurses were expected to strike this weekend.

During the protest, temporary replacement nurses were brought in to maintain staffing at both Sierra Vista and Twin Cities.

In a statement Friday, Tenet said the hospitals were both “fully operational” and that staff’s focus was on “providing exception quality patient care and services.”

A woman dressed in a shark costume was among the 160 nurses and supporters picketing in front of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. The nursing union was demanding more hiring and better contracts from its employer, Tenet Healthcare. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

“Patients and their loved ones can be assured that Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital are staffed with qualified and experienced replacement nurses as well as all of our other caregivers through the strike’s duration,” read the statement. “All currently scheduled elective surgeries are taking place today.”

The California Nursing Association and Tenet Healthcare were still in contract negotiations as of Friday.

“We value our relationship with all our employees, and we are committed to resolving these contract negotiations,” continued the statement. “We remain focused on our primary mission — providing safe, quality care to our patients, just as we do every day.”

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.