- Nurses at HCA Healthcare’s Riverside Community Hospital in south-central California issued a 10-day strike notice last week, citing a breakdown in discussions over safety and staffing, the union representing them said Monday.
- The nurses plan to strike from Friday, June 26 through July 6, prior to starting contract negotiations with HCA on July 7. The union plans to push for better staffing and safety measures, particularly hospital preparedness during states of emergency.
- Neither HCA nor Riverside were available for comment, but the hospital told Becker’s Hospital Review it had hoped the union “would not resort to these tactics” during the COVID-19 pandemic and said it had not laid off or furloughed any employees due to the crisis.
The strike notice follows a recent job posting from the nation’s biggest for-profit chain seeking qualified nurses in the Los Angeles area in the event of a job action or work stoppage.
Nurses at Riverside Community Hospital pushed for an improved staffing agreement last year and got it — but the hospital recently ended that agreement, resulting in fewer RNs taking care of more patients amid a pandemic, according to the union.
Insufficient personal protective equipment, inadequate safety measures and recycling of single-use PPE is also putting nurses at increased risk of COVID-19 infection, the union alleges.
Scores of RNs at the hospital have fallen ill with COVID-19, according to a release, including deaths of an environmental services worker and a lab technician, that “have not caused RCH to improve staffing or increase PPE.”
PPE shortages have been a problem at all of the 27 hospitals SEIU Local 121 RN represents, the union says. But a member survey found HCA hospitals were particularly unprepared for shortages. Only 27% of local 121 RN members at HCA hospitals reported having access to N95 respirators in their unit, significantly lower than other hospitals surveyed, according to the union.
Nashville-based HCA has received the most among for-profits in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding so far, about $1 billion. The amount is about 2% of HCA’s total 2019 revenue.
The 184-hospital system said it has not had to furlough employees like other systems have, though some employees have been redeployed or seen their hours and pay decrease. HCA implemented a program providing seven weeks paid time off at 70% of base pay that was scheduled to expire May 16, but has been extended through this week.
A spokesperson with the country’s largest nurses union, National Nurses United, told Healthcare Dive the program isn’t technically a furlough because some HCA nurses participating said they must remain on call or work rotating shifts.
NNU has also recently fought with HCA over other pandemic-related labor issues. Nurses at 15 HCA hospitals protested in late May over contractually bargained wage increases the hospital says it can’t deliver due to financial strains, asking nurses to give up the increases or face layoffs.
Another dispute involves a last-minute change mandating in-person voting for nurses deciding whether to form a union at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, according to an NNU release.
SEIU Local 121 RN said HCA can “easily weather this storm financially, continue to provide profits for their shareholders, while at the same time support and protect nurses as they fight this disease and fight to save their community.”