LANCASTER – Hundreds of nurses hit the picket line Wednesday outside Antelope Valley Hospital (AVH). The nurses are striking to draw attention to issues such as safe staffing and retention of experienced nurses, according to a statement from the California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents about 1,000 registered nurses at AVH.
The strike began around 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, and was scheduled to conclude at 6:59 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, CNA officials said.
The nurses’ contract expired in July of 2015 and attempts to negotiate a new contract broke down.
“The breakdown is due to management trying to weaken our contract and weaken our rights to advocate for patients,” said Maria Altamirano, RN, who has worked at the hospital for nine years. “Right now, we are fighting for critical staffing protections and resources for our nurses to ensure patient safety. We are often so short staffed that we cannot even take breaks, and nurses work 12-hour shifts.”
“The current working conditions lead to trouble retaining and recruiting experienced nurses for our patients,” Altamirano continued.
Antelope Valley Hospital has been managed by Alecto Healthcare Services since November of 2015. In a statement released this week, CEO John Rossfeld said Antelope Valley Hospital spends approximately 56.65 percent of its revenue on wages and benefits — compared to Palmdale Regional, which spends 44.99 percent, and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, which spends 40.79 percent. The union’s proposal would increase the hospital’s spending on wages and benefits to 65 percent of its revenue, which was unsustainable for AVH, according to Rossfeld.
Hospital officials stressed that patient care would not be affected during the strike.
“While we are disappointed that the nurses opted to move forward with a strike, we want to assure the community that the hospital is fully staffed with trained and experienced nurses from Nurse Bridge. Patient care has always been and continues to be our top priority,” stated Dr. Doddanna Krishna, chairman of the board of directors for the Antelope Valley Healthcare District.
Hospital officials reportedly signed a contract With Nurse Bridge Consultants for replacement nurses to staff the hospital during the strike.
Though the strike was scheduled to end Thursday morning, the replacement nurses were hired for a five-day period. Nurse Bridge posted a recruitment notice for nurses on its website for a five-day strike period starting Sept. 28. [Read the notice here.]
It was unclear Wednesday what AVH nurses would do if they were unable to return to work when the strike ended Thursday morning.
“The hospital is spending 3.9 million dollars to hire replacement nurses during this strike — patient care dollars that are leaving the hospital and our local economy,” Altamirano said. “That money could have gone toward new OR equipment, more nurses, more technology for the community…”
“They are fully staffing the hospital with these RNs, who do not even know our community, [while] they are short staffing their own nurses. The nurses deserve better, the patients deserve better,” Altamirano continued.
UPDATE: In a statement released from Antelope Valley Hospital, officials said:
“We are asking nurses to respect the process and not come to campus if they are not scheduled to work. Those who do will be sent home without pay as their shift will have already been staffed by Nurse Bridge. Regular nursing shifts will resume on October 3…”
“The hospital will welcome its nurses back to their shifts and, ideally, resume negotiations with CNA’s bargaining team. We recognize that in the end we are all part of the same AVH family wanting to fulfill our mission and serve the community’s ongoing healthcare needs.”
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