Nurses stand up to corporate health care

http://platform.twitter.com/widgets/hub.htmlNational Nurses United recently announced actions by local affiliates aimed at improving patient care and resisting corporate attempts to reduce or eliminate employee benefits. In California, 6,000 Registered Nurses belonging to the California Nurses Association will conduct a one-day strike on December 22 against two corporate hospital chains.

On December 20, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association will demonstrate at the New York headquarters of Cerberus Capital Management to protest the private equity firm’s practices at hospitals it owns in Massachusetts that nurses say undercut patient care for the sake of profit.

The California nurses have been negotiating for new contracts with two hospitals in Long Beach, California owned by MemorialCare Health System. Management at the two hospitals, Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children’s Hospital, has resisted attempts by nurses to ensure that patient care is not compromised by understaffing. Currently, nurses say that staffing levels dip to unsafe levels when nurses take breaks or eat.

“When the hospital does not staff to provide meals and breaks for nurses, it is detrimental to patient care,” said Long Beach RN Allison Miller.  “Our patients require and deserve to have the continued care they expect from our hospital.”

Nurses also want the hospital to adhere to safety requirements involving the lifting of patients. According to NNU, management at the two hospitals has stalled in implementing new lift policies enacted recently by the state. The new lift policies protect the safety of patients and nurses alike.

The hospital chain, which describes itself as a non-profit but last reported $135.6 million in net income, also wants nurses to pay nearly $3,000 more in out-of-pocket expenses for their health care.

“Nurses are tired of having to fight everyday to protect their patients because of speed up and cost cutting measures,’ said Long Beach RN Margie Keenan.

The nurses at the two hospitals have been working without a contract since September 30 as they continue to negotiate a new one with management.

In Bay Area, 4,000 RNs have been working without a contract with eight hospitals owned by Sutter Health. Like the MemorialCare System, Sutter describes itself as a non-profit, but last year it had a net income of $875 million up 29 percent over the previous year’s net income of $677 million.

Despite Sutter’s healthy bottom line it demanded at least 200 concessions from the nurses when they began bargaining for a new contract including new work rules that would stifle the ability of RNs to advocate for their patients. Sutter also wants its RNs to pay more for their health care coverage.

“We told our management that we would pledge not to strike if they pledged to not put takeaways on the table,” said RN Rowena Modesto. “They would not make that commitment. They are the ones who are forcing us into this situation.  We must stick together to fight on behalf of our standards and our patients.”

Back East, RNs are standing up to Cerberus Capital Management which recently acquired ten hospitals in Massachusetts and more hospitals in Rhode Island and Florida. Operating as Steward Healthcare System, Cerberus is trying to back out of an agreement it has with nurses to protect their traditional defined benefits pension plan.

Nurses also charge that Cerberus has reduced patient care to pump up profits. “Specialty units for the care of specific conditions have been eliminated, staffing levels have been reduced, patients are treated like products on an assembly line and even the most basic supplies are not available when we need them. I mean, crackers and juice for diabetic patients are gone from the floors,” said Kathy Reardon, an RN at Steward Norwood.

Cerberus buys companies that it thinks are underperforming and tries to make them profitable again in order to sell the company at a premium. In 2007, it bought Chrysler, which in 2009 filed for bankruptcy and caused Cerberus to lose its 80 percent stake in the company.

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