Sign Up for Updates

The Blog

CNA members: Nurses protect patients

San Francisco Chronicle OpEd, 9/30/11

By: Genel Morgan, RN and Rita LaBarge, RN

Friday, September 30, 2011

To suggest that nurses who fight to provide safe care every minute of every day are using the death of one of our patients for our own gain is genuinely disturbing. One only has to view the video of the candlelight vigil held honoring Judith Ming to recognize palpable grief in all of our faces as we honored the life of a patient caught in the crosshairs of a system gone awry. She died from a medical error by a replacement nurse who was tossed into a chaotic situation with little preparation.

As nurses, we never take the decision to strike lightly and it's a measure of very last resort. Our employer, Sutter Health, decided to make us stand outside for five more days. They did not have to make this choice; Kaiser did not lock out its nurses.

Why did we strike for 24 hours? Because our ability to provide safe care is being seriously threatened by Sutter Health. In the case of a strike, this one being no different, we have a Patient Protection Task force ready to send in a nurse to care for a patient if needed - and in fact, nurses were sent in when they were needed during this strike.

The driving issues that left nurses no choice but to strike were Sutter's extraordinary proposals to eliminate essential provisions that allow us to effectively advocate for our patients; punishing us if our decisions to keep patients safe go against management; taking away our ability to call in more nurses if our patient load becomes unsafe; and doing away with sick pay, forcing us to come to work sick, compromising the health of our patients,

We have chosen to be nurses because we are caregivers, and it is our professional and legal responsibility to ensure that our patients have the safest quality care while in the hospital, care that permits them to return to their loved ones and live a healthy and full life once again.

It wasn't always like this. Hospitals used to be locally owned and managed. Decisions were based on care, not cost. Registered nurses are the last line of defense between our patients and corporate decisions that have no business in health care. In the last six years, Sutter has amassed $3.7 billion in profit, its CEO taking home more than $4 million in 2009.

The fact is that nurses unions make for safer care. The presence of a professional nurses union in a hospital was associated with a 6.8 percent reduction in deaths from heart attacks, according to a 2004 Cornell study of 344 California hospitals.

Christine McCargar, one of our colleagues who has been a nurse for more than 40 years, speaks for all nurses when she recently wrote: The California Nurses Association "has allowed us to bargain for patient safety. If you believe that corporate decisions are made based on what is best for the patient, you are naive. Unfortunately, what matters is the bottom line and coming in under budget. We are not enabled to succeed, but rather challenged to maintain safety.

"Our advocacy is based solely on the well-being of our patients. I check your medications for appropriateness, dosage, timeliness and contraindications. I assess and make recommendations, I intervene, I perform skin assessments, position you for comfort, provide pain medication, monitor you and the well-being of your baby. I will do all this at the sacrifice of my physical well-being, because you are a human life and I value you. I am what stands between you and potential disaster."

Genel Morgan is an RN at Mills-Peninsula Hospital and Rita LaBarge is an RN at Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and members of the California Nurses Association.

To view the video, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMtpCyCGoSg

Back to The Blog »