Press Release

RNs, Veterans to Hold Speak Out at San Diego VA with Call for Action to Improve Patient Care

Registered nurses at the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) in San Diego, joined and supported by veteran service members, will hold a public speak out Wednesday to outline immediate steps the medical center should take to improve patient care at the VA hospital.

At the San Diego VA facility, the RNs are also seeking a collective voice through National Nurses United, which they say would give them a greater ability to advocate for improvements in care. RNs filed a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Board for an election; no date has yet been set.

Wednesday's action takes place at a time when the nation's VA healthcare system is under close scrutiny. Registered nurses at the VA say they are appalled by the creation of secret waiting lists at VA facilities, and even more importantly, the delays in treatment and care that those lists hid. The lists revealed in the media over the past few months, however, are only symptoms of deeper problems, nurses say. 

"The duty of registered nurses within the VA healthcare system is to provide high quality care and to advocate for the men and women who put their lives and health at risk defending our nation," said Carla Melgun, an intensive care RN at the San Diego VA.

"We believe that the San Diego VA can improve its delivery of health care to our veterans, can improve it in a way similar to the entire VA system. We don't need to replace the system, but we do need to hire more nurses and bedside caregivers. More nurses will ensure that our veterans get the safest, most focused, and most effective care that they have earned and deserve," Melgun said.

What:        San Diego Nurses & Vets Speak Out for San Diego VA Care Improvements  

When:       Weds.  July, 23, 2014 - 12:00 pm Noon

Where:      VA Medical Center - Public sidewalk entrance         

                 Villa La Jolla Drive, San Diego

"The horrors of war are visited upon all who participate.  To have these wounds amplified by our nation by not providing proper post-combat treatment is truly abhorrent," said Edward G. Fox, DPH, who served as a Captain in the US Army Medical Service Corps from 1968-1971. "Recent revelations concerning the lack of resources and the lack of credibility of the Veteran's Administration must be addressed now.  Full funding and standards must be provided and adhered to. These nurses are attempting to address these problems.  They are trying to improve the medical care of our troops and not looking to improve their incomes or status.  This is truly an altruistic effort," said Fox, who is also a member of Veterans for Peace.

"VA funding must be directed, and management and structure must be reformed to ensure that veterans get the care they need," said RN, Irma Westmoreland, Chair of Veteran's Affairs for National Nurses United.

"The problems at the VAMC in San Diego are symptomatic of problems across the entire system. The VA suffers from dramatic understaffing of frontline care workers. VA funding too often goes to administration, rather than the frontline nurses and other health professionals that actually provide care,” said Westmoreland.   

San Diego VA Medical Center RNs are calling on the VAMC administration to immediately act to resolve:

  • Serious outpatient clinic understaffing. Care Coordinators have excessive patient loads of approximately 2,000 patients each. RNs do not have sufficient time to see patients during appointments. RNs are also not provided with adequate training for subcutaneous meds.

  • A lack of operating room suites. The shortfall leads to long wait times for inpatient and outpatient surgeries. In Orthopedics, for example, patients have to wait 18 months to get a total hip or knee surgery.

  • Excessive workloads, due to inadequate staffing, for RNs in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit that leads to delays in care. Workloads have doubled for RNs. Current workloads are based on number of patients only and ignore the individual patient’s acuity -- severity of illness and condition. Some patients end up having to wait up to two months to get their surgeries as a result, say the RNs.

  • Chronic understaffing in emergency, general medical/surgical, and telemetry (where patients are on monitors) units, which leads to inadequate care. Currently these units rely on RNs "floated" from other units. RNs are calling on the administration to hire permanent positions so the units are always staffed with RNs who have the appropriate experience and training for the units where they are providing care. The RNs also criticize VA hospital management which too often cuts support staff claiming “budget reasons or limited resources” which increases workload problems for the RNs.

NNU is seeking an election that would cover some 500 RNs at VA San Diego Hospital which is located adjacent to the Thornton campus of the University of California San Diego Medical Center. UC San Diego RNs are already represented by CNA, the largest affiliate of NNU. CNA represents more than 85,000 California RNs, including nearly 6,000 in San Diego County.

NNU, the fastest growing union in the U.S., currently represents RNs at 22 VA hospitals across the U.S., part of a 185,000 member organization nationally.