“You never forget those times when you know you’ve truly saved a life,” says Registered Nurse Miriam Cortez. “Like the time we had a patient ready for medical transport to a nursing facility. He’d had a head trauma and began vomiting while waiting to be transported. I knew that was a red flag, possibly indicating a sudden change in brain pressure. I immediately assessed his condition and called the doctor, and a brain scan showed that there had been a major shift in the brain. So instead of transporting the young man out of the hospital, he went straight to ICU.”
Read the Press Statement from SEIU 121RN President Gayle Batiste
Whenever Miriam hears about hospitals pushing their nurses to work out of ratio, she remembers that moment. What if she’d been overloaded? What if attending to the extra patients meant that she’d missed that young man’s symptoms? What if the distraction of too many requests robbed her of critical thinking skills when they were most needed?
“We’re talking life and death here,” says Miriam. “They’ve done studies that show mortality rates really do go up when nurses are out of ratio. I mean think about it: if I’m on a 12-hour shift and you throw just one more patient in the mix, that’s like taking almost half an hour of care or more from each patient. That means they’re forcing you to cut corners and rush. That means not noticing important things.”
It’s that critical assessment time that worries Miriam most—those moments when nurses often catch issues early.
And that’s why, Miriam explains, she stood firm for patient safety one morning when management directed her to take an unlawful six patient assignment.
“I got to the floor at the beginning of my shift,” says Miriam. “And when I was handed my assignments, I saw that I had six patients—in violation of state standards, against the law. I’d been out of ratio before, but that morning, I just saw so clearly the scope and importance of not being out of ratio, how unsafe it is for patients and staff…so I accepted a five patient assignment and told my manager I couldn’t accept a sixth.”
Miriam proceeded to introduce herself to her patients. And that’s when management went into a familiar pattern of intimidation and bullying that is frequently seen on her floor. Her manager and director called her into management’s office.
“They actually asked me, ‘If you’re so concerned about patient care, why don’t you care about this sixth patient?’ It was like they were questioning—even mocking—my concern for patients. I had one patient that day who was dying and another who’d just come out of ICU with complications. I’ve developed good nursing judgment. I knew the level of care that would be required for these patients. I held my ground. I said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s unsafe. I can’t do it.’”
They continued to push and threaten Miriam, questioning again her commitment to patient care and to the unit. Miriam was frustrated that management was bullying her instead of attempting to find a solution to provide for patient and nursing safety. Instead of finding a solution, management suspended Miriam and wrote her up for insubordination. They sent her home without pay. She still has a disciplinary suspension on her record—and Miriam, with her union, is still fighting this. It was the employer who broke the law, not Miriam. This type of retaliation against nurses puts them in fear when they want to advocate for patient safety. It’s an attempt to silence conscientious nurses.
It’s pretty simple. The laws are there for a reason: to protect patients and nurses. That’s why Registered Nurses like Miriam worked with Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) to introduce AB 1102: The Protect Hospital Patient Safety Act.
The Governor agreed with us and signed this legislation into law on September 25, 2017.
We understand that schedules and responsibilities won’t always allow you to be a part of a particular team.
In 2010, I was part of a group of SEIU Local 121RN nurses who headed to Haiti to provide medical relief after a devastating earthquake. Across the U.S., more than 1,000 SEIU healthcare professionals volunteered to go to Haiti. It was an incredible experience.
I won’t kid you: responding to these disasters isn’t easy. We worked long into the night with limited resources, limited plumbing and limited “creature comforts”—but I can also tell you that it felt amazing to be a part of our team giving care and comfort to those who suffered so much injury, illness and loss.
Recently, we reached out to members who were willing and available to volunteer their assistance after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and other parts of the country. In a short time since then, we’ve learned of numerous additional disasters, both natural and manmade. And while many are feeling overwhelmed, I know that nurses are often the first to think “How can I help?”
Understandably, requests for our medical skills are urgent and time-sensitive. That’s why we will maintain a list of our Registered Nurses who are interested in being a part of an SEIU Local 121RN Disaster Rapid Response Team.
Gayle Batiste, RN
President, SEIU Local 121RN
On September 25, Governor Brown signed our legislation, Assembly Bill 1102 into law.
We worked with Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D—Pomona), who introduced the bill. We found that the old fines designed to penalize a hospital for cutting corners on staffing were outdated and simply too low. It was clear that hospital management considered these fines “the cost of doing business.”
These minimal current fines had not been updated in 20 years. Hospitals have been willing to roll the dice and have even disciplined the conscientious nurses (like Miriam) who objected to violations of the law. This is in direct violation of the whistleblower protections afforded to nurses.
The bottom line is: we know that cutting corners and short-staffing puts patients at risk. AB 1102 will increase the fines for a willful violation of these provisions from a current ceiling of $20,000 to up to $75,000. These higher fines—and our continued commitment to blow the whistle when we see illegal short-staffing—will make it much less appealing for profit-minded hospitals cut corners.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2017
CONTACT: Terry Carter, (805) 312-0024
SEIU Local 121RN President Gayle Batiste, RN, CNOR, released the following statement on the Governor’s signing of AB 1102 (Rodriguez):
“The Registered Nurses of SEIU Local 121RN are grateful that Governor Brown agrees that patient safety is our state’s number one priority. California continues to lead the nation in the protection of patients and Registered Nurses.
“Those of us on the front line of patient care applaud this strong message from the Governor: Californians won’t tolerate a downward spiral of cut corners and diminished patient safety.
“Registered Nurses of SEIU Local 121RN will continue to push for higher standards and continue to challenge hospitals to be real partners with us and all Californians as we work together to strengthen patient care.”
Service Employees International Union, Local 121RN represents 8,500 registered nurses and professionals at 23 hospitals in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. This member-led organization is committed to supporting optimum working conditions that allow nurses to provide quality patient care and safety.
Our legislation, Assembly Bill 1102, was moved out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee the morning of Tuesday, April 25 with a vote of 10 for and none against — full bipartisan support! Thank you to our bill sponsor, Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez for his leadership, and to all the nurses and others who called members of the Judiciary Committee to encourage their support.
Nurses currently have no direct way to penalize a hospital for cutting corners with staffing. If AB 1102 is passed, higher fines will make it less likely that hospital management will consider these fines “the cost of doing business.”
SEIU 121RN President Gayle Batiste testified at the hearing, saying:
“Since the current fines are minimal and have not been updated in 20 years, hospitals have been willing to roll the dice and have disciplined nurses who have objected to violations of the law. This is in direct violation of the whistleblower protections afforded to nurses.
“AB 1102 would create a greater disincentive to such retaliation by increasing the fines for a willful violation of these provisions from a current ceiling of $20,000 to up to $75,000,” Batiste continued.
AB 1102 will force hospitals to take a closer look at whether staffing correctly or paying higher fines is more cost-effective. Middle managers will no longer consider short-staffing “part of the job” when a personal misdemeanor charge against them is on the line.