The president of the local branch of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees said Tuesday that “nothing has changed for the better” since last August, when Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and union members agreed on a contract that narrowly averted a nurses strike.
In fact, Fonda Osborn said, hospital representatives negotiating a staffing plan for nurses have “refused to budge” on staffing issues since a committee created in last year’s contract began to meet in October.
“The bottom line is it’s been at an impasse since the beginning,” Osborn said. Staffing levels have been a main point of contention between the hospital and the union.
Osborn said hospital officials have said they aim to maintain staffing levels at the 50th percentile, meaning Santa Fe’s general hospital would be better staffed than about half the hospitals of comparable size in the country and less well staffed than about half.
But, Osborn said, those levels are too low. For example, she said, nurses in the medical surgical unit are currently responsible for six patients each when they come on shift. And if new patients are admitted during the day, she said, nurses can end up being responsible for up to eight patients. In California, state law mandates no more than four patients per nurse, she said.
The union leader said the hospital has cut back on nurse aides in the past year, as well. Some aides are caring for as many as 12 patients per shift.
Osborn said union representatives would like to see a ratio of no more than five patients per nurse.
In July, the union filed three complaints of unfair labor practices against the hospital with the U.S. Labor Relations Board.
One complaint takes hospital brass to task for refusing to bargain with the union regarding hospital staffing. Another complaint alleges the hospital has violated the terms of its contract with the union by failing to provide information on staffing levels and turnover rates. The third complaint states that the hospital has attempted to “interfere with and restrain the employees in their rights” by routinely denying union representatives access to the hospital cafeteria and other conference rooms for meetings, while allowing those spaces to be used by groups “selling Tupperware, books and other hospital items.”
Osborn said the hospital usually doesn’t give a reason for denying access to the spaces, and it offers meeting times that conflict with set shift changes to make it difficult for union members to meet with union representatives.
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center spokesman Arturo Delgado said Tuesday that the hospital is aware of the union’s complaints and plans to meet with union representatives later this month to discuss the situation.
“We are certainly willing to meet to talk about their concerns,” Delgado said. “But there is also frustration on our end. This is a two-way street, and we need them to work with us, too.”
Osborn estimated that about 120 nurses (a little more than 20 percent of the nursing staff) had left the hospital in the past year. Some of those were fired, moved or changed careers, Osborn said, but many were older nurses discouraged by the failed strike vote and working conditions. “They just went on their own little strike and quit,” she said.
Osborn said studies show a direct correlation between patient outcome and patient loads.
“Everybody should be concerned about staffing,” she said. “You have better outcomes when you have less patients [per nurse].”
Osborn said she expects the U.S. Labor Relations Board to make a decision on the union’s complaints in about a month.
“We’re hoping they will order them to negotiate with us in good faith,” Osborn said.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 986-3068.