LOS ANGELES - Nurses are calling for a strike at three hospitals in Southern California next week amid the COVID-19 surge across the region.
2,500 nurses plan to strike at Los Robles Regional Medical Center, Riverside Community Hospital and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center starting December 24 and ending January 3. The nurses are asking for additional staffing at hospitals and more safeguards.
"I don't think a strike is the best choice, but sometimes it's the only choice," said Kerry Cavazos, a Registered Nurse for Riverside Community Hospital and the Union President.
Cavazos has been a nurse for 30 years and said they are fighting for safety, more staffing and PPE. They've been at the bargaining table since July 7.
"To walk in the door [of the hospital] and the fear of is my patient going to make it today? Am I going to bring something home to my husband or child or my elderly parent? Am I going to get it and am I going to be able to breathe? That fear is overwhelming. Our nurses are infected. Our patients are infected. The surge is real," she said.
Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order to change the nurse to patient ratios from one nurse per two patients to one nurse per three patients.
"This stretching of resources, again empathy and respect to these human beings, these front line healthcare workers, these nurses that are doing heroic work every single day," Newsom said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Cavazos said the new ratios put the staff and community at risk.
"If we take more patients in this pandemic, it makes us unsafe. Those ratios are there to keep you safe," she said.
The staffing shortages at hospitals come during the latest Covid-19 surge that is wreaking havoc on SoCal hospitals. The number of ICU beds across the region are near non-existent. Riverside County is at 0% ICU bed capacity.
As of Tuesday, LA county reports 543,769 positive cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 8,431.
According to the state, the Southern California region's ICU capacity is at 1.7%. The region is currently under Governor Gavin Newsom's strict stay-at-home order after SoCal's ICU capacity dropped below the 15% threshold necessary to trigger the state order earlier in the month.
Antonio Castelan, the Communications Manager for HCA Far West Division, issued a statement Monday regarding the calls to strike at three hospitals:
"Riverside Community Hospital, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center and Los Robles Health System are proud of a long history of serving our community’s healthcare needs. Today, we are disappointed to have been formally served with a 10-day strike notice from SEIU 121RN. According to the notice, the strikes will begin at 6:00 a.m. December 24, 2020 and will conclude at 6:00 a.m. January 3, 2020.
A strike at this time further adds to the demands on the overburdened healthcare system in Southern California, which is already at bed and ICU capacities due to the nursing shortage and COVID-19 surge.
As a result of the union's decision to strike during this challenging time, our hospitals must limit their full scope of services in order to ensure nurses are available to care for patients with the highest needs.
For months, we have bargained in good faith to secure a new labor agreement with SEIU 121RN. We will continue to do so as we plan for the union’s strike, including scheduled negotiations this week.
Given the current COVID-19 surge and the national nursing shortage, it is unconscionable that the union would urge nurses to abandon the bedside and ask them to sacrifice wages from several lost shifts. It is also surprising that SEIU 121 RN would take an action that may endanger patients, a decision that their own constitution and bylaws state they should make every effort to avoid.
During each renewal period, our goal is the same, to secure a fair agreement that continues to support a culture of colleague safety, care excellence and compassion. In this particular negotiation, we resolved the initial list of requests posed by the union, only for them to present a new list of issues and unrealistic demands. Regardless, we will continue negotiating in good faith this week at the bargaining table - too many lives in Southern California depend on the vital services our hospitals provide."