Press Release: Nurses issue 10-day strike notice at Riverside Community Hospital and plead for staffing and safety.

For Immediate Release: Monday, June 22, 2020
CONTACT: Terry Carter, (805) 312-0024

Nurses’ frustration levels skyrocket as hospital’s lack of safety before & during pandemic continues. Cuts to staffing and other changes implemented unilaterally by the hospital.

Riverside, CA–Registered Nurses at Riverside Community Hospital (RCH) issued a strike notice on June 15, following a breakdown in discussions over patient and Nurse safety issues due to short-staffing. Last year, even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Nurses successfully urged the hospital to increase staffing and end many of its unsafe practices, which resulted in an improved staffing agreement. Recently, the hospital ended that agreement.

Instead of taking extra precautions during this pandemic, the hospital continues to cut corners and take risks with Nurses’ and patients’ lives. By ending the agreement, hospital administrators have basically sent a message that:

  • Less RNs are expected to take care of more patients, even with an increased risk of COVID-19 infection due to insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), inadequate safety measures and recycling of single-use PPE.
  • Patient transfers from other hospitals must be accepted even if RCH has reached capacity and in spite of insufficient staffing to care for those patients.
  • The scores of RNs at RCH who have fallen ill with COVID-19 are dispensable casualties. Two recent deaths of support personnel, an environmental services worker and a lab technician, have not caused RCH to improve staffing or increase PPE.
  • Legally-mandated rest breaks and meal periods are optional, given the lack of sufficient break nurses provided by RCH to give reprieve to exhausted nurses wearing masks, shields and other PPE for 12+ hours.
  • Although they have been cited by CDPH and CMS, they can resume their unsafe practice of loading Trauma and Mobile Intensive Care Nurses with unrelated patient assignments, instead of reserving them for the most critical patients, for which they are specifically responsible.

Although a dangerous lack of PPE has been a problem at all 121RN hospitals, HCA hospitals were particularly unprepared for the shortage, even when we asked them for their staffing, health and safety, infection control and preparedness plans regarding the disease—on February 6—well before COVID-19 evolved into a pandemic. In a union-wide member survey, it was the wealthy HCA hospitals that had some of the lowest marks for available PPE (survey results here). The hospital continues to aggressively ration items for “the surge,” regardless of how many are getting infected now, causing less nurses to be at work taking care of patients.

Nurses in the COVID-19 and ICU units care for more patients than they can safely handle, creating an increased risk of negative patient outcomes and preventing nurses from giving their patients the time and attention they need. In addition:

  • There continues to be poor adherence to the OSHA mandated directive to ensure all staff are notified of possible exposure. In fact, the hospital chain has disciplined RNs who have alerted their colleagues of exposure.
  • RCH Nurses held a “Silent Protest for PPE” in April to sound the alarm on these issues and ancillary staff held a candlelight vigil soon after. Nurses report seeing little, if any, improvement.

At the same time, Riverside Community Hospital is part of the largest, wealthiest for-profit healthcare corporation in the nation:

  • HCA is in an amazingly good financial position. They had so much in profits last year that they took $2 billion to buy back their own stock and pay shareholder dividends. They had planned to do an additional $2.8 billion buyback of their own stock – in other words, they have nearly $3 billion in play money to get them through the pandemic without a scratch.
  • On top of that, they got another $5 billion in federal bailout money—$1 billion of it that they never have to pay back.Here’s another way to look at this corporation:
    • During 2015 through 2019, HCA annual income went from $39.7 Billion to $51.3 Billion—so in 5 years they increased their annual income by 29%
    • At the same time, though, they went from $2.1 billion in pure profit in 2015 to $3.5 Billion in 2019. That was an increase of 65% in annual profits.
    • So how did they do that? How did 29% more in income turn into 65% more in pure gravy profits? By cutting corners, that’s how. By understaffing. By refusing to provide break relief. By not having enough PPE on hand.
  • HCA could 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.
  • At the same time that they are cutting corners with understaffing and PPE, they have spent untold amounts cynically anticipating a strike by creating “a new line of business focused on staffing strike-related labor shortages.”

Long before Nurses at Riverside delivered their strike notice, the hospital began recruiting nurses who will earn more than they did in their current jobs: up to $980 per shift, plus a $150 “Show Up” bonus as well as other perks.  They can easily agree to staff the hospital appropriately so that nurses can fully focus on their patients, and patients can receive the care they need.

The Nurses plan to strike from June 26 through July 6.  Contract negotiations begin on July 7, and the Union will focus on staffing and health and safety, including hospital preparedness during states of emergency.

Never in the history of SEIU Local 121RN have Nurses held a strike prior to contract negotiations—an unprecedented action during unprecedented times against an incomparably profitable hospital corporation.

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SEIU Local 121RN represents registered nurses and other healthcare professionals in California. This member-led organization is committed to supporting optimum working conditions that allow nurses to provide quality patient care and safety.

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