Los Robles nurses demand more staffing

Hospital, union in midst of contract negotiations


HELP WANTED—Jennifer Hardy, an intensive care unit nurse, leads the picket line during a protest outside Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks on Monday. Nurses were picketing due to poor working conditions they say have been caused by staffing shortages. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers

HELP WANTED—Jennifer Hardy, an intensive care unit nurse, leads the picket line during a protest outside Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks on Monday. Nurses were picketing due to poor working conditions they say have been caused by staffing shortages. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers

Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center nurses took to the streets Sept. 11.

In the midst of negotiations— with a contract that expires Friday—their union, Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, had what it called an informational picket on Janss Road between the hospital’s main and emergency room entrances.

“We’re here to fight patientstaffing corporate ratios for our nurses so we can provide what we want for our patients’ full-on care,” said ICU nurse Jennifer Hardy, union steward. “This is our job and we love it.”

Hardy joined about 30 other nurses on the line. Many donned purple union shirts, some emblazoned with “We Can Do It” and a graphic of a nurse posed Rosie-the-Riveter style, as they chanted “We are the mighty nurses’ union.”

Though healthcare was part of the chant Monday, that’s not the sticking point now, said union representative Corey Clark.

“We are just basically focusing on the staffing at this point,” Clark said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That’s where we’re at and what’s holding up negotiations.”

She said the issue is that nurses at Los Robles and the two other HCA Healthcare hospitals, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center and Riverside Community Hospital, are being forced to do the work of at least three people.

“In a normal situation, you have a nurse with four patients plus a certified nursing assistant and a phlebotomist,” said the former ER nurse. “Now the nurses have to do all the paperwork and draw blood, so although they’re taking care of the same number of patients, they’re doing much more work.”

When nurses are stretched thinner, patient care suffers, she said.

On top of that, charge nurses, who traditionally serve a supervisory role overseeing nursing and patient activities on a ward, are now having to see patients, Clark said.

“Charge nurses are not supposed to give patient care, per Title 22 (of the California Code of Regulations),” Clark said.

Among the things charge nurses are supposed to do is substitute for nurses as they take their breaks.

“When charge nurses give patient care, that’s not happening and the nurses aren’t getting breaks,” Clark said.

For its part, Los Robles claims staffing is right where it should be.

“Providing safe patient care is the Hospital’s highest priority, and we believe it is staffed appropriately,” said Adam Blackstone, marketing and public relations vice president, in an email to The Acorn.

In what Blackstone calls “one of the most regulated industries in the country,” he notes the hospital is governed by complex rules and regulations, including those related to staffing.

“The Hospital has an excellent relationship with regulators and makes every effort to comply with its obligations under the law and, significantly, to provide patients with the safest environment possible,” he said. “Moreover, we have added RNs and support staff such as lunch relief RNs and certified nursing assistants.”

Pointing out the collective bargaining agreement is a mature contract that’s been negotiated between the two parties over nearly two decades, Blackstone said both the nurses’ union and hospital have expended significant effort in order to strike a delicate balance between the needs of both parties and the patients.

“ Despite the established balance, the union has sought to completely renegotiate certain articles in the collective bargaining agreements for the benefit of the union, including seeking provisions that provide for disruption of labor peace during the terms of the agreements.”

Should the hospital and the union fail to come to an agreement by Friday, it’s not as if nurses would stop showing up to work Saturday, Clark said. What happens is some of the clauses regarding grievance processes and strikes and walkouts would no longer apply, she said.

“Fortunately, contrary to popular belief, we wouldn’t just pick up and go on a strike,” Clark said. “It just allows us to call for a vote on it; there’s a whole process.”