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Emanuel nurses hold one-day strike
Emanuel nurses strike
Nurses at Emanuel Medical Center went on a one-day strike Friday, calling for better investment by management in the facility’s nursing staff (Photo contributed).

Around 200 registered nurses from Emanuel Medical Center gathered outside of the hospital on Friday for a one-day strike, calling on management to invest in nursing staff in order to make sure patients in the area receive the best treatment.

The Emanuel RNs were one small piece of a statewide strike Friday that included 2,000 members of the California Nurses Association. The strike also saw pickets at Tenet Healthcare hospitals throughout the region, like Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and San Ramon Regional Medical Center in San Ramon, as well as hospitals in Los Alamitos, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Templeton and San Luis Obispo. Four Tenet facilities in Arizona and Florida held the first hospital RN strikes in their states’ histories as well on Friday.

“It’s about patient safety. That’s our main focus here,” nurse Erika Peterson said from the picket line along Olive Avenue in Turlock. “We want to ensure our patients get optimal care and in order to do that we have to have adequate staffing, rest breaks, meal breaks and decrease mandatory on-call.”

Despite a significant lack of nurses during the strike Friday, Emanuel remained “fully operational,” the hospital said in a statement, with the day’s scheduled elective surgeries taking place as expected thanks to a staff of replacement nurses. 

“The union’s action is related to contract negotiations between eight California hospitals and the union,” the Emanuel statement said. “We are disappointed that the union is taking this strike action, which in our view is not constructive or necessary.

“We value our relationship with all our employees and we remain focused on our primary mission — providing safe, quality care to our patients, just as we do every day.”

The striking nurses hope management will support nursing staff at each site, allowing for improvement of recruiting and retaining experienced nurses.

Over 150,000 people who hold active RN licenses in California do not work as nurses, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some are either retired or unemployed, others are making the conscious choice not to work in the field.

There are several problems RNs would like to see fixed in order to encourage more people to either become nurses or to utilize their previously-earned licenses, said CNA.

According to Tenet, the company paid out a total of nearly $8 million in penalty pay to RNs from 2016-2018 for more than 140,000 missed meal breaks in the eight California hospitals holding the strikes. There were 57,000 missed breaks reported in 2018 alone — an increase of 28 percent from 2016. Fewer breaks lead to more fatigue for nurses, putting them at risk of medical errors or injuries to either themselves or their patients.

Data supplied by Tenet also shows an increasing reliance on “on-call” nurses for operating rooms and other units for regularly-scheduled procedures and non-emergent situations, rather than using “on-call” the way it’s intended: for unexpected, emergent situations. “On-call” nurses can be called back to work even after they’ve already worked an entire shift and are required to return within 30 minutes, even if they haven’t had an adequate rest period.

Since 2016, overtime for “on-call” nurses has increased by 48 percent according to Tenet data.

“Unfortunately, it came to this,” Peterson said. “It’s hard to leave but we did it for the greater good, for our cause and for better patient safety in the end.

“I hope that we’re heard and our message gets across. Hopefully, we can come to an agreement soon.”

Nurses at Emanuel and the other striking hospitals will return to work at 7 a.m. Saturday following the one-day strike.