Kaiser nurses hold protest rally in Santa Rosa for more staffing

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Dozens of Kaiser nurses held a rally Monday at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital as part of a one-day protest aimed at highlighting what nurses said was inadequate staffing to care for Kaiser’s patient population.

The protest, organized by the California Nurses Association, was one of 21 held at Kaiser hospitals and clinics throughout Northern California. The nurses union represents 18,000 Kaiser nurses in the region and is currently negotiating a new contract with the health care giant.

CNA officials said Monday that Kaiser added more than half a million patients during the Obamacare era but hired no new nurses. The nurses’ current three-year contract expires Sept. 30.

“They need more nurses to provide care for patients both in the clinics and in the hospitals,” said Deborah Burger, CNA co-president. “Our patients are essentially going without care so that Kaiser can make money.”

Officials at Kaiser, a nonprofit organization, would not comment for this story beyond a statement saying their first priority was patient care and safety. The statement, attributed to Debora Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser’s Northern California operations, pointed out the rally was not a strike and had no impact on patient care and medical services.

“We respect and value our nurses, who are the best in health care, and are proud that Kaiser Permanente is a recognized leader in health care quality and safety,” Catsavas said.

Catsavas said Kaiser physicians make decisions about patient care, taking into account what’s “best for the patient.” She said the health care provider complies with “state mandated nurse staffing ratios, and often exceed them.”

Monday’s rally was held in the breezeway between Kaiser’s five-story hospital and one of its medical office buildings on Bicentennial Way.

Nurses passed out flyers and spoke to patients and staff about their staffing concerns.

Because the rally was not a strike, nurses were able to distribute information at the medical campus. If it were a strike, nurses would have to hold their picket on the sidewalk of either on Mendocino Avenue or Bicentennial Way.

Burger said state-mandated staffing ratios for nurses are not the preferred levels of staffing but the bare minimum. She also said Kaiser’s staffing levels do not take into account patient acuity, that is, the severity of their illness.

Legal staffing ratios, she said, were “supposed to be the floor not the ceiling.”

Cyndi Krahne, a registered nurse with the medical surgical telemetry unit and a member of CNA’s local bargaining unit, said inadequate staffing is impacting patient care. In some cases, Kaiser is sending patients home too soon and leaving their post-hospital treatment to family members.

“They’re pushing them out of the hospital before they’re ready to go,” Krahne said.

Cheryl Correa, a registered nurse who works in the ambulatory surgery unit and post-anesthesia care unit, said increasingly, Kaiser’s nurses are being overworked and that’s affecting patient care.

“We want less wait times for our patients on the advice nurse line, in the ER, in the clinics,” she said. “We need more nurses, more staff.”

Nurses said Obamacare has added at least tens of thousands more patients to Kaiser’s North Coast operations.

“Kaiser has eliminated a number of what we feel are safeguards to provide safe care in the clinics,” Burger said. “They’ve eliminated a number of nurse positions which we feel are crucial. We’ve actually had near misses.”

Both the nurses union and Kaiser said they will continue to negotiate toward an agreement. Burger said no strike has been planned.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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