Health and Fitness

California RNs Want Sutter to End Lockout & State to Investigate Safety Violations Following Patient Death

CALIFORNIA–(ENEWSPF)–September 26, 2011.  The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United yesterday called on Sutter corporation to immediately end the unsafe lockout of its regularly scheduled nurses following media confirmation of a patient death while under the care of a strike replacement RN, as well as reports of other serious problems involving strike replacement RNs.

RNs held a memorial candlelight vigil Sunday night and pressed Sutter executives to end the lockout. 

Saturday night, the San Francisco Chronicle and Contra Costa Times both reported the death of a female patient which, according to the Chronicle, was due to “what the hospital described as a ‘medical error’ made while she was under the care of a replacement nurse.” The nurse, reported the Contra Costa Times, “came to the hospital from another state” to work during the one day strike which the medical center turned into a 5-day lockout of its nurses.

Sutter RNs held the one-day strike on Thursday to protest demands by Sutter executives for some 200 contract concessions, a number of which would erode the ability of nurses to advocate for safer patient care, especially on the critical issue of safe staffing.

But when RNs sought to return to work Friday morning, they were instead barred from the hospital by hospital officials and armed security guards. Quoting hospital and police officials, the Contra Costa Times stated that the out of state nurse committed the error “while administering a dosage of medication to a cancer patient leading to her death early Saturday morning.” Yet, said CNA, at least one experienced, veteran oncology nurse who tried to report to work Friday was among those turned away at Summit.

“An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses’ concern about their ability to advocate for their patients,” CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, told the Chronicle. “It was irresponsible to lock out those nurses.”

DeMoro is calling on Sutter’s corporate chief executive officer Pat Fry to “end this disgraceful and dangerous lockout immediately, and to “return to the bargaining table to discuss the issues of patient safety which are at the heart of the nurses’ concerns with Sutter.”

Martha Kuhl, one of the locked out RNs at Children’s, noted that  Kaiser Permanente, where RNs also struck for one day on Thursday did not lock out its regularly scheduled RNs,  “compelling evidence that the punitive lockout by Sutter and Children’s is unwarranted, unnecessary, and unconscionable.”

Just hours before the patient death, CNA Friday had asked the California Department of Public Health to conduct a formal investigation in response to reports that replacement RNs used during the lockout lack the appropriate clinical competencies and certifications that are necessary for safe patient care.

“We are calling on the Department of Public Health to carefully examine conditions in Sutter hospitals that have locked out RNs,” said CNA Legislative Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.

On Friday, a registered nurse at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s Summit hospital in Oakland returned to work after an urgent notification from the hospital to CNA that it needed a nurse it had locked out who has specialized competency and expertise in caring for patients in need of complex procedures such as dialysis and pheresis.

CNA also raised concerns about whether all the replacement RNs are properly certified to ensure they have the appropriate clinical expertise for the areas where they are working.

“Failure to guarantee clinical competencies and not assuring proper certifications violate California law, and put patients at risk,” said Castillo. If found guilty, the Sutter hospitals could face potential fines, depending on the severity of the incidents and the extent of the violations.

“We also call on the California Board of Registered Nursing to scrutinize the clinical competency and certifications of both the strikebreaking nurses and the nurse supervisors at the hospitals to see if they should retain their RN licensure,” Castillo said.

Throughout the region, experienced, long term RNs at Sutter and Children’s hospital arrived for regularly scheduled shifts but were turned away by hospital executives,” said DeMoro. “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.”

The lockout followed a 24-hour strike by 23,000 RNs at Sutter, Children’s and Kaiser hospitals. During the strike, CNA maintained a patient care task force at every hospital consisting of nurses on strike who are available to assist with genuine patient emergencies. CNA also provides the hospitals lengthy advance notice, in this event nearly two weeks, to plan for a strike. 

The hospitals cited a pretext for the lockout by claims that they “must” sign long term contracts with strike agencies. That assertion, says Kuhl, is “not credible. Why do they take such a hard line in negotiations with nurses who live and work in their communities and take care of their patients every other day of the year, but spend tens of millions of dollars to give these strike firms whatever they ask for?”