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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Labor & Workers
Bay Area Sutter Nurses Plan May 1 Walkout
Hospital Chain’s Demand for Over 100 Cuts in Care, RN Standards While Amassing Huge Profits Prompts Third One-Day RN Strike
With the wealthy Sutter Health corporation continuing to demand more than 100 sweeping reductions in patient care and nurses’ standards and workplace conditions, registered nurses at eight Northern California Sutter hospitals will hold a one-day strike May 1, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United announced today.
Some 4,500 RNs are affected by the planned walkout, which will occur at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Mills-Peninsula Health Services hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, San Leandro Hospital, Sutter Delta in Antioch, Sutter Solano in Vallejo, Novato Community Hospital, and Sutter Lakeside.
Despite making over $4 billion in profits since 2007, and handing its chief executive Pat Fry a 215 percent pay hike to over $4 million a year, Sutter is demanding huge cuts for its RNs, many of which would pose risks to patient safety. Since the last strike in December, the corporate chain has refused to modify its massive call for cuts, and at several hospitals imposed reductions in standards for nurses and their families.
“As an RN at Sutter Delta Medical Center, I feel I need to go on strike for the safety of my patients,” said Sutter Delta RN Amy Black. “The medical center is attempting to take away sick leave, vacation time, and education time which effectively forces me to come to work sick, stressed, and not up to date on the latest advancements of my profession.”
In a meeting of CNA’s Sutter Joint Bargaining Council attended by dozens of Sutter RNs this week, a number of nurses repeated their desire to challenge Sutter’s attacks on nurses and patients, voicing support for the next walkout.
“These takeaways represent the greed and misplaced priorities of Sutter in its ongoing pursuit of profits over quality patient care given by the RNs,” said Alta Bates Summit RN Mike Hill. “We will continue to fight the cuts by Sutter and defend our profession and our communities.”
Among the many concession demands at various Sutter hospitals:
■Eliminating paid sick leave, effectively forcing nurses to work when ill, exposing already frail and vulnerable patients to further infection.
■Forcing RNs to work in hospital areas for which they do not have appropriate clinical expertise, again a safety risk for patients.
■Huge increases in nurses’ out-of-pocket costs for health coverage for themselves and family members.
■Limits on the ability of charge nurses, who make clinical assignments for nurses, to address staffing shortages, subjecting patients to the danger of unsafe staffing.
■Forcing RNs to work overtime, exposing patients to care from fatigued nurses who are more prone to making medical errors.
■Eliminating retiree health plans.
■Eliminating all health coverage for nurses who work less than 30 hours per week.
■Reduced pregnancy and family medical leave, undermining RN families.
Concurrently, Sutter continues to make substantial cuts in patient services throughout the region, especially in areas it considers inadequately profitable, such as mental health, cancer screening, and services for women, children, and seniors.
“Sutter’s tone at the bargaining table has been dismissive and disrespectful of nurses' concerns,” said Mills-Peninsula RN Genel Morgan. “They have misjudged our resolve to stand up and safeguard our nursing standards, and to ensure our patients don’t suffer from Sutter wanting to cut these standards. Sutter has used half truths and lies to justify its objectives, but we see right through them, much as the community sees through them whenever Sutter cuts services.”
Yet, Sutter is hardly the picture of a floundering small business. Over the past five years, Sutter has racked up nearly $4.2 billion in profits, according to its own audited financial statements. Further, Sutter pays 21 top executives salaries over $1 million, several of them getting pay hikes of over 150 percent since 2005.
“Sutter has passed the stage of ‘too big to fail’ going to ‘too big to care’,” said CNA/NNU co-president Zenei Cortez, RN. “They have shown they are far more interested in amassing wealth than caring about community health or the nurses who provide care for the patients, who are the base of Sutter’s huge profits. Sutter RNs will never accept a reduced voice to speak out for patients, or an erosion in their own standards.”
Sutter’s additional abandonment of communities and patients (partial list):
■End breast cancer screening for women with disabilities and most bone marrow transplant services for cancer patients at Alta Bates Summit in Oakland and Berkeley.
■Stop providing psychiatric services under contract with Sacramento County for more than 225 Sacramento children.
■Close specialized pediatric care, acute rehabilitation, dialysis, and skilled nursing care services at Mills and Peninsula hospitals in Burlingame and San Mateo.
■Close home health services and limit acute-care hospital stays in Lakeport.
■Close acute rehabilitation services, skilled nursing care, and psychiatric services, and substantially downgrade nursery care for sick children at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley.
■Sharply cut psychiatric care at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley.
■Close a birthing center at Sutter Auburn Faith, forcing new mothers and families to travel up to 100 miles for obstetrics care, while giving a $1 million gift to the Sacramento Kings.
■Close pediatric, psychiatric, lactation, and transitional care services in Santa Rosa.