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Palm Drive hospital nurses expecting layoffs

Nurses at Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol are bracing for significant layoffs after meeting with hospital officials Tuesday and learning of detailed plans that would reduce the size of the hospital from 37 inpatient beds to 14.

Prior to the meeting, nurses were hoping hospital administrators would agree to offer severance packages to nurses willing to retire. But that request was denied, said Debra Hurst, a registered nurse in the hospital's medical surgical unit.

Approximately 80 nurses at Palm Drive are represented by the California Nurses Association, union officials said.

“We can't do much. This is their plan,” said Hurst. “Basically this is about income revenue to the hospital. As always, it's struggling.”

Hurst, who is part of the union negotiating team, said both sides discussed what layoffs would occur and which units would be affected.

Hurst would not disclose exactly how many nurses would lose their jobs because negotiations are ongoing. Nurses work in four units at the hospital: operative and perioperative; intensive care; emergency room and medical surgical.

“We did come to an agreement that management would agree to honor the union contract, especially the seniority clause,” Hurst said.

Palm Drive CEO Tom Harlan said the hospital is still evaluating the scope of the layoffs that will be announced. Nursing jobs comprise only part of the staff reductions being considered, he said.

“We don't have a number,” he said. “This is still a moving situation. There's still a lot of evaluation being done.”

The share of nurses expected to be laid off does not directly correlate to the hospital's plan to mothball well over half its beds, Hurst said.

“What we worry about is the ability of our hospital to care for patients who are acutely ill when the beds available are full because of this reduction,” Hurst said.

She said small district hospitals like Palm Drive are having a difficult time coping with changes brought on by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The new law seeks to shift government health care payments from the traditional hospital setting to preventative care and outpatient services.

In another move aimed at increasing revenue, the Palm Drive Health Care District Board voted this week to form a new foundation that would focus fundraising efforts solely on the hospital.

The foundation would become the hospital's main fundraising arm, a task currently assumed by the existing Palm Drive Health Care Foundation. The move was recommended by a consultants' report last summer.

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