Roseville, Calif.- Registered nurses at Sutter Roseville Medical Center turned out in overwhelming numbers Thursday, and voted by 96 percent to authorize a strike to protest the Medical Center’s refusal to address staffing and patient care concerns-part of a wider pattern, nurses say, of the Sutter Health chain putting profits over safe care delivery.
No date has been set for a possible strike. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents nearly 1,000 RNs at the Roseville hospital, in addition to eight other Sutter facilities represented by CNA where CNA is currently in contentious contract talks with the giant Sutter chain.
Like Roseville, RNs at the other hospitals with open contracts are also fighting Sutter demands for cuts that nurses say will erode patient safety by a chain with a notorious history in recent years of cutting patient services while rolling up huge profits – nearly $3.5 billion the past five years.
In Roseville, the RNs’ contract expired in June, and nurses say management has taken a hard line in talks that put their patients in jeopardy as well as pushing cuts in the RNs own livelihood and standards.
Central to RN concerns is the hospital’s refusal to address unsafe staffing issues. Budget cuts and a resulting lack of beds on individual units, for example, mean patients are being admitted with no hospital beds available. They are then housed in the ER, limiting the ability of ER nurses to safely care for other patients needing emergency care while they have to also monitor and provide care for patients who should be in an inpatient hospital bed. It also results in RNs from other hospital units having to leave their patient assignments to work in the ER.
“We’re fighting for patient safety, we’re fighting against unsafe staffing,” says Jennifer Barker, an emergency room RN. “I’m inspired by the nurses who are willing to step up and take on the Sutter Health corporation in the name of safe patient care.”
Labor and Delivery RN Andrea Seils agrees, citing Labor and Delivery staffing cuts being carried out under the guise of “efficiency” that nurses say is actually about cost cutting at the expense of care.
According to Seils, “They’re trying to restructure our unit to eliminate positions and combine care. It’s unsafe for mothers and babies in our community.”
Additionally, nurses say Sutter’s is demanding more than 30 reductions in the RNs’ existing health coverage, including big increases in out of pocket costs for nurses, all of which are paid to Sutter under Sutter Health’s self-insured plan. These costs exceed what county and school district employees covered by Sutter’s HMO pay to Sutter Health.
“There’s no economic or operations justification for any of their proposals,” says Seils. “The strike vote will send a strong message to Sutter Health that RNs are serious about fighting for patient care.”
CNA/NNU nurses are engaged in a similar battle for a fair contract at eight other Northern California Sutter hospitals -Sutter Tracy, California Pacific Medical Center-Pacific campus in San Francisco, Mills Peninsula Health Services with facilities in Burlingame and San Mateo, Sutter Auburn Faith in Auburn, Sutter Lakeside, Sutter Santa Cruz (a visiting nurses home health service), Sutter Santa Rosa, and Sutter Solano in Vallejo.
RNs have long viewed Sutter as a poster child for corporate medical care in seeking to elevate its enormous wealth over patient services and employee rights.
From 2011 to 2013, Sutter RNs held nine strikes at some dozen Northern California Sutter Hospital. That fight ended only when Sutter agreed to withdraw demands for some 200 reductions in patient care, workplace protections, and nursing standards.