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Watsonville hospital nurses plan three-day strike Thursday

Jondi Gumz, San Jose Mercury News, 8/13/14

Staffing, lifting patients issues at Watsonville Community Hospital

WATSONVILLE-- Registered nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital have announced a three-day strike beginning 7 a.m. Thursday and ending 6:59 a.m. Sunday.

The nurses are represented by California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, which says the hospital management is demanding "sharp reductions" in health coverage and not responding to concerns about staffing and safe practices for lifting patients.

"We raise serious concerns about safe staffing and clinical practices but we receive no serious response," said Roseann Farris, a critical care registered nurse at Watsonville. "We need to take this action in order for the hospital to take our concerns seriously."

Hospital spokeswoman Cindy Weigelt confirmed receiving an intent to strike notice.

A contingency operations plan will be implemented, she said, in the event the strike does occur.

"As always, our top priority is the care and safety of our patients, employees and visitors whenever such activity may occur," Weigelt said.

When the nurses at the Watsonville hospital held a one-day strike in December, the hospital hired temporary replacement registered nurses to take their place. At the time, the union said management wanted to increase nurses' out-of-pocket health care costs up to $5,900 a year, raise co-pays and deductibles, eliminate a retirement plan contribution and cut sick time pay.

For seven consecutive years, Santa Cruz County had the highest hospital wages in the country, according to Medicare.

This month, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which operates the Watsonville hospital, agreed to pay $98 million to settle a Department of Justice investigation into its billing practices.

According to a report in the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, about $88 million will go to resolve claims made by the federal government that 119 of the 206 company's hospitals billed the government from 2005 to 2010 for inpatient admissions when, in the government's view, those services should have been billed as outpatient cases, which tend to be less expensive. As part of that settlement, whistleblower cases filed in Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas and Indiana were dismissed. Community Health Systems denies wrongdoing.

Registered nurses represented by CNA plan one-day walkouts Thursday at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital in Tracy and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

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