MONTEREY PARK, CA – Registered nurses represented by the union SEIU 121RN at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park began a 10-day strike today. The union represents about 355 nurses at the hospital, which is owned by parent company Alhambra Hospital Medical Center (AHMC).
The nurses say that they face chronic unsafe staffing due to high turnover that has reached crisis proportions. In addition to turnover, nurses point to substandard equipment and inadequate workplace hazard policies as factors contributing to decreased morale.
Nurses point to the fact that current security practices are inadequate to prevent the flow of weapons into the hospital. Nurses are required to search patients’ belongings and confiscate weapons, which nurses say puts them at undue risk and distracts from patient care.
“We asked for security guards at every entrance with metal detector wands, they said ‘no.’” said Christina Smith, a nurse in the Rehab unit. “How much more can we tolerate? It just takes one angry person to come in and make it bad for all of us.”
Nurses provided AHMC management with a litany of serious safety and security issues, some of which they say have been ignored for more than a year. Some are potentially life-threatening, like broken cardiac monitors and defibrillators with missing parts. Others, like widespread air-conditioning system failures, impact the quality of life for patients and make the working conditions even more grueling.
“In Critical Care, we've seen a trend of cutting essential staff,” said Rachel Matteson, a nurse in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. “I've seen patients crashing rapidly because of understaffing. Nurses have to take multiple patients that should receive one-to-one care. When nurses have a voice, patient care is better. Because we're not looking at the bottom line, we're looking at patients’ faces.”
On the first day of the strike, nurses were joined by elected officials representing Monterey Park and nearby communities, including US Representative Judy Chu. “[Nurses] deserve safe working conditions where [they] don’t have to deal with patients who bring in knives, guns and other kinds of weapons,” Representative Chu said.
"The Garfield nurses have shown phenomenal compassion and concern for their patients from day one, which makes this employer's refusal to take the nurses seriously all the more disturbing,” said Rosanna Mendez, Executive Director of SEIU Local 121RN. “Our team made an extreme effort to accommodate this employer and avoid a strike, but AHMC was unwilling to seriously engage and insulted nurses at every turn. And when our members made exceedingly reasonable requests for functional medical equipment, the hospital told them that their own lived experience at the bedside is wrong. This employer has expressed deep disrespect for nurses and refused to take them or their patient care concerns seriously, so it's no wonder nurses have decided a strike is their last option to be heard."