Coastal Post Online












(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

January, 2008



Smiley's Hotel in downtown Bolinas, California offers some of the best rooms in West Marin at the most reasonable prices. Garden settings and only a 5 minute walk to some beautiful beaches. 30 miles north of San Francisco, it is the best kept secret hideaway in Marin.
Click Here To Find Out More


Sutter Nurses Rebel-Patient Care Dangerous
By Karen Nakamura

The relationship between Sutter Health and the California Nurses Association (CNA) is even more tenuous these days. Sutter has still not settled with the union since last June's three-day walkout by the CNA. However, the mainstream media has paid little attention to the reasons nurses are upset.
On December 13 and 14, nurses from 13 facilities around the San Francisco Bay Area again protested. Hospitals staff taking part included nurses from Marin General, Sutter Novato, Alta Bates Summit, California Pacific in San Francisco and Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, as well as members of the Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union, and technical workers at Alta Bates. Approximately 600 nurses struck at Marin General Hospital and Sutter/Novato Hospital.

Sutter's reputation for shoddy practices is catching up with it. Nurse to patient ratios are still at such low levels that nurses can jeopardize their patients' safety if they take a break or go for a meal. Nurses are striking because Sutter's inadequate proposals leave patient care issues unaddressed, notably the above situation and demand safe staffing at all times. They also want safe patient lifting practices to reduce injuries to both aides and nurses and to prevent patient falls and accidents. These are basic care issues. As Sherry Ramsey, an ICU nurse at Sutter Solano said: "We are striking Sutter again mostly over patient care conditions, ...when Sutter forces nurses to work in unsafe conditions, we all pay the price with diminished patient care."

A third recommendation is increased staffing in emergency rooms and the "establishment of hospital rapid response teams ...for life-threatening patient emergencies." A fourth point is that patients "only be assigned to an RN" not a less-trained employee.

Marin General nurses have their own issues besides those put to Sutter Health by the CNA. There has been no improvement to the Pension Plan or retiree healthcare. And nurses feel MGH hasn't given enough written assurances to protect benefits when staff health insurance changes go into effect in 2009. Another is a change proposed by Sutter/MGH to limit how education leave is paid. Nor is there any "retroactivity on wage increases" and nurses are particularly worried about contract coverage for Charge Nurses.

Sutter Health refuses to implement these recommendations just as it balked at remedying the over a hundred violations cited by State and Federal hospital accreditation teams.

Zenei Cortez, RN, on the Council of Presidents of the

CNA/National Nurses Organizing Committee responded:

"There's a danger that we'll see an exodus of experienced nurses out of Sutter facilities. The working conditions are far below other hospitals in the Bay Area." Sutter/Novato has lost a notable number of nurses in the last year.

The CNA points out that Sutter's proposals for nurse health security, medical benefits, and pension improvements are not only unsatisfactory to the registered nurses, they are inferior to CNA standards established with Kaiser Permanente and other facilities.

Sutter's attempt to close community hospitals is also a major flashpoint. Sutter is trying to close St. Luke's Hospital, San Leandro and Sutter Santa Rosa (readers will remember Sutter's insistence on placing the expensive, highest level of emergency care at Santa Rosa instead of Marin General a few years ago). These hospitals serve patients who are poorer and composed of more people of color than other Sutter hospitals.

The Marin Independent Journal reported that Chuck Idelson, a spokesman for the CNA, said "That will have a disproportionate impact on low-income residents and communities of color while they [Sutter] pursue wealthier communities where they make more profits. For Sutter, profits are the name of the game."

In another issue, nurses at Alta Bates Summit in Berkeley and Oakland joined UC colleagues in rejecting a Sutter Health proposal for what they call "an invasive wellness program." RNs feel this program is "fraught with problems of confidentiality and carries financial penalties for non-participations." It was a prime issue that drove nurses at some of the 13 Sutter hospitals to overwhelmingly vote for the strike,

It also includes a particularly irksome questionnaire that UCSF health, for instance, insists can be forwarded to the employee's insurance carrier without telling the employee and without their permission, James Darby, a member of the CNA/NNOC RN bargaining team stated. "This shows a complete lack of respect for employee privacy." Alta Bates RNs also expressed concerns of confidentiality, "in light of the fact that the questionnaire will be administered by a Sutter Health affiliate where a record number of large corporate computer breaches have occurred throughout the world."

"These are eight pages of some of the most personal and intimate questions imaginable that could play havoc with a nurse's ability to be insured," said Efren Garza, RN, another member of the RN negotiating team. "RNs, who suffer the highest rate of back injuries of any profession, do not need to also live in fear of being denied healthcare coverage."

Many see Sutter as carrying out a policy of harassment and disrespect for its nurses. Recently, a memo circulated by Alta Bates' Viki Ardito directed managers to single out the four RN staff in each section who have the "worst attitudes" with patients. Managers are then to discipline these four up to and including termination. The memo mirrors targeting of RNs at other Sutter facilities; especially those at Sutter Novato and CPSF.

Up until the day of the strike, the only negotiations scheduled were for Alta Bates. It's important to remember that the meeting was called by a federal mediator. Otherwise, no additional negotiations have taken place.

Coastal Post Home Page