Strike by San Bernardino RNs Begins Today - Rally at 12 Noon
In 11th Hour Talks, County Refuses to Resolve Serious Retention, Staffing Issues
A two day walkout by registered nurses who work at San Bernardino County’s Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and county clinics is on after county officials in 11th hour bargaining Monday night refused to resolve the key problems that have led to the loss of many experienced RNs and have put quality care for community residents at risk.
The strike begins at 7 a.m. today, and continues until 7 a.m. Thursday. Striking nurses will hold a 12 noon rally today outside Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, 400 N. Pepper Ave., in Colton.
Yesterday the county lost a court appeal to block the walkout. Striking RNs will have a Patient Protection Task Force on the picket line available to provide emergency assistance after the strike begins and will assign a nurse to stabilize the patient if necessary.
“If county officials would devote the resources to improving conditions at their health facilities that they have wasted on efforts to block the strike and hire replacement nurses, they would go a long way to settling this dispute,” said CNA Co-President Zenei Cortez, RN.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United which represents 1,250 San Bernardino County RNs cites a 30 percent wage gap for county RNs compared to the nearby private hospitals that has contributed to a serious drain of RNs who leave the county to work in other local hospitals. That disparity rises as high as 52 percent for some of the most experienced RNs.
“Eroding conditions jeopardize the county’s mission statement of ‘providing quality health care — to the residents of San Bernardino County’ at its safety net hospital and outpatient clinics. The essential element in the ability to provide quality health care is the expertise of the registered nurses," said Becky Spradling, RN. "Sadly, the county is not investing in its loyal, experienced registered nurses and the loss of experienced nurses leads to a number of patient safety problems,” said Spradling.
For example, the county wants to require nurses to work in units far outside their area of clinical expertise, such as having maternity care RNs care for very different extremely ill cancer or intensive care patients. The county restricted this unsafe practice in the nurses' prior contract, but is now demanding this protection be eliminated to make up for inadequate staffing and high turnover.
“Recently graduated nurses, who find a first job with the county, and now make up 20 percent of the workforce, repeatedly move on to better standards at other hospitals," said Toni Rodriguez, RN. "As a result, the county has essentially become a training center for the area’s private hospitals. Taxpayers are subsidizing the private sector hospitals by training the RNs for them.”
According to the county’s own data, there were 144 new hires in the past year, suggesting an 11.5 percent turnover rate, well above the statewide and Southern California average. The problem is especially pronounced in some of the most critical care units, such as surgical intensive care where 90 percent of the RNs are new.
Nurses have been in negotiations with the County for 14 months and have been working without a contract since June.