OAKLAND, Calif. - After a patient died at a Sutter Health hospital Sept. 24 while under the care of strike replacement nurses, the California Nurses Association called on the hospital chain to immediately end its lockout of thousands of nurses following a one-day strike last week.
The patient, identified by the coroner's office as Judith Ming, a 66-year-old Oakland resident, was being treated for cancer. She was reportedly given a "non-prescribed dosage" of a medication.
Just hours before her death, the nurses' union, the California Nurses Association-National Nurses United, called on the state Department of Public Health to investigate reports that replacement nurses used during the lockout lacked "the appropriate clinical competencies and certifications that are necessary for patient care."
Nurses from Sutter Health facilities around northern California, and the independent Children's Memorial Hospital, held the one-day strike Sept. 22 to protest the hospitals' demands in contract talks for a long list of takeaways, some of which would cut nurses' ability to advocate for safer patient care, especially safe staffing levels. They were joined by Kaiser Permanente nurses who struck in solidarity with other Kaiser health workers fighting demands for benefit cuts.
All in all, some 23,000 nurses were involved.
The Kaiser nurses returned to their jobs the next morning, but Sutter barred its nurses from their jobs, claiming it had to sign a longer contract with its replacement nurses and could not afford to pay for duplicate staffing. Sutter nurses are slated to return Sept. 27.
The nurses say despite $3.7 billion in profits in the last five years, Sutter is demanding givebacks that would limit their ability to advocate for their patients, force them to work while sick, and slash their health coverage and retiree benefits.
They are also protesting closures and service cuts at Sutter Health facilities in northern California, several of which affect already underserved areas.
After Ming's death, the union's executive director, RoseAnn DeMoro, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses' concern about their ability to advocate for their patients. It was irresponsible to lock out those nurses."
DeMoro called on Sutter CEO Pat Fry to end "this disgraceful and dangerous lockout" immediately and return to the bargaining table to discuss patient safety issues which she said are "at the heart of the nurses' concerns with Sutter."
During the strike, CNA maintained a patient care task force at every hospital, consisting of nurses on strike who were available to help with genuine patient emergencies.
On the first day of the lockout, a registered nurse at Alta Bates reportedly did return to work after the hospital sent an urgent notice to CNA that it needed a nurse it had locked out who has special competency in caring for patients undergoing certain complex procedures.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW