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On Tuesday, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital nurses went out on strike to avoid further rollbacks in staffing, wages, insurance, overtime, break relief and patient handling.

Two years ago, Memorial Hospital nurses agreed to freeze wages and accept takeaways in return for adding 16 hospital safety staffing positions. This was for the safety of our patients. The hospital filled the specified positions and, in turn, laid off dozens of other people.

Memorial Hospital's profit margin quadrupled this year. Bonuses for the hospital's administrative staff roughly doubled. In the same year, the state investigated Memorial for safety issues. Nurses continue to pull 12-hour shifts without breaks, and critical areas remain understaffed. We have honest fears for patient safety and our nursing licenses. This time, Memorial is asking for cuts and rollbacks and not even offering safety or staffing increases in return. As we learned two years ago, trading our welfare for patient safety leads to layoffs and safety issues.

This year we say, "If you are going to run the ship short-staffed and wear us to the bone, we will not take cut backs." In fact, we want raises. Our cost of living has increased. Memorial's profits and bonuses have increased. Our wages should increase.

We are not asking for the kind of major increase that administrators received in their bonuses; only a cost-of-living increase for the previous two years and the two years ahead.

It was stated that nurses only go to school for two years and make $67 an hour. That is simply not true.

Nursing requires two to three years of prerequisites prior to applying for two-to-four-year nursing programs. Half the men and women that do the two-to-three years never get into a nursing program. Many who do had to reapply for years. Many have extended degrees and large student debts.

Hospital careers require costly continuing education and certification. The $67 per hour, as stated by Debra Miller of Memorial in Tuesday's story ("Memorial Hospital nurses going out on strike."), only applies to people who waive all benefits, work nights and have worked for years at Memorial Hospital.

In the hospital's proposal, these wages would decrease by 15 percent. The true starting nurse wage is about $41 per hour. I have 10 years of college, a master's degree, $70,000 in student loans, national certifications, and I spend about $8,000 a year in classes, books, certification and continuing education.

It's rare to have a day where the staffing shortages don't make us concerned for patient safety, or a situation where we may lose our licenses as a result of critical shortages, hunger or exhaustion from lack of breaks.

It is a rare day that we don't go home anxious and stressed. I have worked in large hospitals; I know that it does not have to be this way. I am also a flight nurse, so there's no inability to handle critical situations here.

As a flight nurse, however, I never fear this shortage because we don't operate without adequate staff. Many hospitals, such as Santa Rosa Memorial, operate for extreme profit and administrative bonuses.

I love this hospital, but I also love my co-workers, my community and my patients. Enough is enough. This extremity of profit and bonuses doesn't work for our patients, our community or our health care.

A nonprofit, Catholic hospital such as Memorial should be run for health, safety and community support. I understand that this is a business and needs to profit. However, if you chose health care as your business, then you need to operate with a balance of service to the community. That service needs to include better community low-income health treatment, safe staffing levels and support for the people who keep the patients safe and provide the care. These nurses have families and homes in the community. They cannot afford these high-stress jobs, continuing education, student loans and cutbacks in wages, benefits and staffing.

Please tell Memorial Hospital that you support nurses and healthier communities over corporate profits and administrative bonuses.

<i>Julie Barlow is a nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and a flight nurse for CALSTAR. She lives in Santa Rosa.</i>