A dangerous attempt at intimidation turned deadly on Saturday when a patient under the care of a temporary replacement nurse died at Alta Bates Sutter Medical Center in Oakland, California. The Registered Nurses, who should have been taking care of the patient, were not on the job because on Friday they were locked out by the hospital chain, trying to gain an advantage in contract negotiations in which the company is demanding 200 concessions from its unionized nurses.
The locked out nurses are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, who on Thursday conducted a one-day strike to protest the hospital chain’s demand for concessions, some of which will endanger patient safety by curtailing nurses’ ability to advocate for patient care.
After their one-day strike ended, the union nurses reported for work on Friday morning but were met by armed security guards and hospital administrators, who told them that they could not return to work for five days.
After nurses were barred from working, the union warned that the replacement nurses lacked the competency to provide safe patient care. On Saturday night, the warning came true when a Sutter cancer patient, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, died after a replacement nurse administered “a fatal dose of medication.”
“An incident like this is chilling and strikes right to our nurses concern about their ability to advocate for their patients,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was irresponsible to lock out the nurses.”
Nurses who were locked out called the lock out an act of intimidation aimed at punishing nurses who want to protect their patients’ safety. The hospital contends that it had no choice but to lock out the union nurses because the temp agency demanded that Sutter sign a five-day contract for the replacement nurses.
But Martha Kuhl, a Sutter nurse, said that Kaiser-Permanente, whose workers walked out last week over an unfair labor practice charge, allowed its nurses and other health care workers to return to work after their job action ended. This is “compelling evidence” that the lockout is punitive and unwarranted, Kuhl said.
On Sunday night, union nurses and supporters held a candlelight vigil to honor the patient who died and to urge Sutter to stop its scare tactics and let union nurses return to work.
“When I heard of the tragic incident, I was shocked,” said a tearful nurse at the vigil. “At first I didn’t believe that this could happen to one of our patients and that Sutter would consistently refuse to bring us back to work; that Sutter would jeopardize our patients, our families, our community behind their greed and their punitive and retaliatory actions.”
Despite the tragic death, Sutter continues to lock out its union nurses. CNA is urging supporters to send a letter to Sutter CEO Pat Fry demanding that she end the unsafe lock out and return to the bargaining table to discuss the issue of patient safety, the nurses’ most important bargaining concern.