Nurses Say Los Alamitos Hospital Understaffed

Kirt Ramirez

Around 50 registered nurses rallied outside Los Alamitos Medical Center May 28 to urge Tenet Healthcare management to invest in safe nurse staffing.

The California Nurses Association (CNA), the labor union which represents the hospital’s 400 RNs, is in ongoing contract negotiations with Tenet. The 7 to 9 a.m. informational picket coincided with several pickets at other Tenet facilities in Modesto, San Ramon, Turlock, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Templeton and San Luis Obispo, according to a union press release.

Tenet hospitals in Arizona, Florida and Texas also would picket on the same date. Union representatives are hoping an agreement can be reached so that a strike doesn’t take place.

Many East Long Beach residents seek medical care at Los Alamitos Medical Center, especially since the closing of Community Hospital Long Beach, which is scheduled to reopen this summer.

The CNA is asking Tenet for an improved ability to take breaks, a limit on the use of call teams, improvements to patient care and staffing provisions, an increase in wage, on-call and differential pay, improvements to retirement benefits and paid time off as well as protecting and improving health benefits, according to a union document at the event.

Todd Burke, director of communications for Tenet Healthcare in California, said through email that the hospital remained fully operational during the union event and the staff continued “providing exceptional quality patient care.”

“We are disappointed that the union is taking this approach as it is not constructive or necessary,” Burke said. “We have made good progress toward a new contract with the union and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of reaching a successful resolution, without the need to disrupt our patients or staff in their mission.”

Meanwhile, nurses expressed concern over understaffing. They say there are not enough nurses and the patients are affected as a result. Nurses in general at Los Alamitos work 12 ½ hour shifts with varying schedules and say they often cannot take breaks due to understaffing.

When time comes for a meal or rest break, and there is no break nurse to take over, the nurse cannot take the break.

Ginny Gary, an RN in ICU at Los Alamitos for 34 years, said the hospital needs safe patient staffing. The nurses need to be rested, or delays in care can result, she said.

“It’s really about patient care,” Gary said. “We feel if nurses get the adequate rest they need, the patients will get optimal care.”

Gary works three 12 ½ hour shifts per week but cannot take breaks if a nurse is not there to relieve her.

“We only take the break if we know someone is there to cover the patients,” she said.

Quite often there is no one to cover the breaks, she said.

Chris Wright, an RN in ICU for almost 20 years, said no nurses available to cover the patients during break time is a problem and that he may not abandon the patient.

“The heart of it is safe nurse staffing,” Wright said. “When we don’t get breaks, that means there’s not even a charge nurse or a break nurse to help with emergencies.”

And it’s not just about breaks.

“We are out of ratio when we go to CAT scans, MRIs, rapid responses or code blues with no one to adequately watch our other patients,” he added.

Linda Luher, a CNOR-certified nurse for surgery, came out in her blue scrubs at the end of the event.

“I finally got a break,” she said to the crowd of colleagues, prompting laughter.

“We all know that safe patient care starts with a rested nurse,” she said.

“Remember, patients first, but we need to give to ourselves too so we can give to the patients,” she added.

In an interview with the Beachcomber, Luher said she takes pride in that she grew up in Los Alamitos/Rossmoor, graduated from Los Al High School and works at her hometown hospital.

“This is a second home to me,” she said. “This is our community, our family, our friends.”


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