Federal Mediators at the Table with Nurses Union and Hospital Corporation

Nurses at Riverside Community Hospital say the hospital is in desperate need of help.

“The nurses are really insistent that they immediately change the very dangerous unsafe staffing levels, the lack of adequate PPE, lack of testing …,” says Terry Carter, SEIU Local 121 RN, the nurses’ union spokesperson as she lists the grievances, it’s a long list of conditions that are so dangerous she says some have died. 

“Scores of nurses have fallen ill, there’s been breakouts of COVID and two staff members have already died of COVID,” says Carter adding it has the largest cases of nurses infected with COVID in the county. 

The nurses’ union delivered a strike notice on Monday after marathon negotiations broke down with the Hospital Corporation of America.

The company owns Riverside Community and two other Southern California hospitals where nurses will walk off the job on December 24, 2020 for ten days.

Now negotiations with federal mediators have resumed.

Annette Greenwood, the chief nursing officer at RCH says they follow safety protocols, “Really it’s kind of baffling to me, of course the pandemic is very challenging for everyone and every nurse has challenges associated with caring for COVID patients, we followed CDC guidelines as to PPE from the beginning of the pandemic and actually at time and currently exceed those guidelines.”

The union also says the hospital is dirty, alarmingly unprepared for this pandemic and aggressively rations PPE, and would rather save resources not staff.

Greenwood disagrees, “As a nurse myself it’s not an easy job to walk into these nurses are superheroes coming in everyday to care for patients I believe that we’re prepared.”

The union also claims the corporation has a staffing company and can fill the 1000 nursing positions at RCH if and when they strike.

But greenwood says that’s not the case and this strike would be devastating to the community, “I would beg them to reconsider, that this is not something that’s easily done, in the middle of a nationwide shortage of nurses.”

Carter says the nurses would never endanger the community and not leave patients.

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez also urged the nurses not to strike saying if it happens they would have to transfer patients to other hospitals that are already overwhelmed. Plus now, there’s zero percent ICU capacity in hospitals across the Southern California region.

Carter says, the company refuses to make the changes needed to keep them and patients safe in this and future pandemics and that’s non negotiable, “They continue to receive weak, vague, unenforceable lip service from the hospital.”

“We’ll continue to negotiate so that we can try to come to a resolution but now is not the time to strike.”

SEIU Local 121 RN sent this statement:

The Nurses and Licensed Medical Professionals who make up the Bargaining Team are determined to ensure their hospitals are much better prepared for this and future public health emergencies. The Bargaining Team gave the employer a complete package proposal yesterday—including urgent proposals to address pandemic safety and safe staffing levels—and hoped to continue negotiating. However, the HCA negotiators ended the table for the night. The Bargaining Team passed proposals months ago on pandemic safety and safe staffing levels, and raised these serious concerns long before the pandemic and before negotiations began. In fact, it’s gotten worse during the pandemic, yet HCA has used the pandemic as an excuse. These are not new issues. HCA has not remedied them. While scores of Nurses and other healthcare workers fall ill with COVID (two at Riverside Community Hospital have died), the corporation has provided nothing but weak, vague, unenforceable lip service to the very basic demands of their healthcare employees, whose patient care and advocacy is the number one priority. The timing of this strike, like so many of the issues the Nurses are addressing at the bargaining table, is manufactured by the employer.  It is unconscionable that during this pandemic, our patients and the employees who provide patient care have not been prioritized to maintain a healthy community.

HCA’s communications machine claims that Nurses and their colleagues at the bargaining table haven’t made “realistic moves regarding significant patient safety issues.” Translation: the Bargaining Team has not agreed to watered down language that doesn’t hold the hospitals accountable for patient safety during a public health emergency.

The Nurses note that much of the staffing crisis at HCA hospitals is manufactured and predates the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, the hospitals removed per diems from their schedules and had countless staff sit out shifts. There are few if any support staff in the units (CNAs, unit secretaries, custodial, transporters, etc.), while the hospitals applied for waivers allowing them to disregard safe nurse-to-patient ratios. The hospitals also recently lowered the amount they were willing to pay travelers, while most hospitals were offering much more. HCA also owns its own staffing companies. Bottom line: the Bargaining Team does not trust what HCA says about its staffing levels.

Staff report continued aggressive rationing of PPE, they insist the corporation is not testing adequately (neither patients nor staff), and RNs continue to report 12-hour shifts without an opportunity to get a sip of water, some nutrition or use the restroom.

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