Patient’s death at forefront of clash
CHA accuses nurses union of exploiting tragedy ‘to further their agenda’
The California Hospital Association blasted the California Nurses Association for invoking the death of a patient under the care of a replacement nurse in its bargaining rhetoric. “It is inappropriate and irresponsible for the California Nurses Association labor union to exploit this tragedy to further their union agenda,” CHA President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a statement issued Sept. 25, the day after a patient died while at 408-bed Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland.
CNA nurses at the hospital were on strike Sept. 23 and weren’t allowed to return immediately because they were forced to honor five-day contracts for replacement nurses, according to the hospital’s parent, Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health. Nurses across California that week left their jobs as part of three days of strikes, including the one-day strike at Sutter hospitals.
“We have met and spoken with the family of the patient to express our sorrow and sympathy and let them know our prayers are with them,” Carol Weis, the chief nursing executive at the medical center’s Summit campus, said in a written statement. The statement acknowledged that a nurse’s error caused the death but did not confirm that the nurse was a replacement for locked-out workers. Oak- land police said the death was apparently caused by a nonprescribed dosage of a drug, according to published reports.
The union organized a candlelight vigil after issuing a statement early Sept. 25, triggering widespread media coverage of the death. The union said some nurses were barred from their posts by armed security guards.
“This disgraceful and unsafe lockout is the latest indication of Sutter’s disregard for its patients and nurses, which is also seen in its drastic cuts in patient services across the region and the nearly 200 demands Sutter has made for sweeping reductions in nurses and patient-care standards,” National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said in the statement. The CNA is an NNU affiliate.
Dauner, of the Sacramento, Calif.-based hospital association, responded that hospitals had little choice than to hire replacement nurses. He also defended the skills of those temporary workers. “If the union believes the use of licensed replacement nurses is a threat to public safety, then why have they chosen to pursue a pattern of waging strikes on a routine basis?” he said in the statement.
The union is protesting contract concessions at Sutter, including the elimination of paid sick leave, which they say is a threat to patient safety. Sutter officials said they are offering nurses 40 paid days off a year and an average registered nurse’s annual salary of $136,000.
About 5,000 Sutter nurses in 21 hospitals were involved in the strike, according to CNA spokesman Chuck Idelson. Idelson said the union’s response to the death would be no different if it had happened on the day of the strike rather than during the lockout, reasoning that the hospital had weeks to prepare and that the union also had nurses on call in case they were needed. “It’s their responsibility to assure the safety of their patients.”
Nurses hold a candlelight vigil outside Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland after the death of a patient.