By Terry Miller
On Saturday, socially distanced union representatives and exhausted nurses protested the patient-to-staffing ratio during the pandemic at Methodist Hospital of Southern California.
Registered nurses held the silent event to oppose the hospital’s use of a state waiver to circumvent nurse-to-patient safe staffing standards. In December, the state allowed hospitals to adjust nurse-to-patient ratios normally set by California law. Under the altered ratios, hospitals “can require ICU nurses to care for three patients instead of two. Emergency room and telemetry nurses may now be asked to care for six patients instead of four. Medical-surgical nurses are looking after seven patients instead of five,” reports NPR.
“Under ‘expedited waivers,’ hospitals can increase the workload of already overburdened nurses,” said California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. “By the mere submission of a form, hospitals can require nurses in intensive care units and throughout the hospital setting to unsafely care for more patients at one time.”
Nurses are urging Methodist Hospital to staff “for safe patient care, not to use the pandemic as an excuse to put patients at serious risk.”
“I’m not out here today because I’m tired and I’m overworked and I’m scared,” Kelly Coulston, a cardiac nurse, told KTLA 5 News. “I’m out here because the public needs to know what’s going on. The families trust us with their family members, and as a nurse, it eats at you morally when you feel like you can’t give the best care that you want to give, that you’re trained to give, because of these staffing ratios.”
“Rolling back safety standards will surely lead to more hospital-acquired infections, and put the lives of patients, registered nurses, and other health care workers at risk,” warned CNA/NNU President Zenei Cortez. “Instead of working with nurses to prepare, to plan, and to make sure they had the staffing in place before a massive wave hit, hospitals want the state and all Californians to bail them out from the crisis they themselves have created.”
“We are demanding the hospital staff safely, notify its nurses of exposure to COVID-19 and provide COVID testing as needed and according to state recommendations,” said Fiona John, RN and nurse representative in the Mother Baby unit at Methodist Hospital. “We need to be protected and safe at work to ensure our patients are protected.”
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen hospital units closed, nurses laid off, nurses called off shifts, and workplace conditions so dangerous that scores of nurses have left,” said Cortez. “Hospitals have left vacancies open while profit-generating elective procedures continued or started up again prematurely.”
While the hospital is within compliance of the law, Clifford Daniels, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Methodist Hospital issued a statement regarding the shortage of available nurses following the protest:
“We want the community to know that Methodist Hospital, like every hospital in Southern California, is experiencing a strikingly high demand for hospital services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; well above what is typical or normal. As a result, the hospital faces a severe shortage of available nurses, caused not only by current extraordinary demand, but also by a high number of nurse call-offs. Methodist Hospital is aggressively pursuing every potential source to find and schedule qualified nurses, including, but not limited to, shift incentives for existing staff, the national guard, registry, and travelers, often at extraordinary cost. Importantly, so far during this crisis situation, we continue to provide safe care for all patients who seek services at Methodist Hospital.
“We ask the community to help ensure the hospital’s ability to remain open for all patients. Slow the spread of COVID-19 by remembering to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, and avoid large gatherings.”
According to hospital spokesperson Brian Greene, the facility in Arcadia continues to be very busy. “The doctors, nurses and staff are working extremely hard caring for patients. As of 9 a.m. [Monday] we had 126 COVID-19 patients and additional patients in COVID-19 isolation awaiting test results to determine if they are positive for COVID-19,” Greene said.
According to the most recent analysis published on Dec. 23 by the Guardian and Kaiser Health News (KHN), more than 2,900 U.S.-based health care workers have died from their infections since March. Many of these infections are directly attributable to insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazardous working conditions such as long hours and high patient loads. As of Dec. 28, 2020, a total of 28,448 healthcare workers and first responders had been confirmed with COVID-19 in L.A. County.