By Cindy Gillison and Leslie Valera
We have been registered nurses for many years, 17 years combined, at Antelope Valley Hospital (AVH) in Lancaster. We, along with our fellow frontline nurses, doctors, and caregivers at the hospital, have shouldered the responsibility of caring for a community during the deadliest pandemic of our lifetime. There is no “stay home” order for us. We have been working relentlessly since Covid-19 first hit our hospital in March last year.
Still, our concerns around patient safety and nursing practice for the last ten months have been ignored by AVH management. It is unconscionable that during the deadliest pandemic in recent history, the management team has turned their back on the very nurses who are on the front lines fighting this virus.
We never thought during our nursing careers that we would experience the things we’ve seen during the pandemic. In early December, our hospital applied for a blanket waiver to violate California’s landmark safe staffing law, forcing us to take more patients than we can safely care for. We see patients struggling to cling to life and can only pray that we can keep them alive for one more day to connect with their families via video. What we need during this critical period is more staff, not less! Decades of studies have proven that patient mortality increases for each additional patient in the average hospital nurse’s workload.
Amidst the most intense surge any of us could have imagined, nurses continue to demand better working conditions but sadly, 25 RNs have been forced to leave after the hospital implemented the staffing waiver. RNs are duty bound not to accept patient assignments that are unsafe, doing so jeopardizes their licenses. Yet, AVH CEO Edward Mirzabegian, and Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, have used the surge as an opportunity to attack frontline nurses. In a recent Antelope Valley Press article, Mayor Parris called RNs who have left the hospital due to unsafe conditions “tyrannous cowards,” accusing them of abandoning the community they are a part of. But the reality is that nurses are trying to protect our community. The day we signed up to be nurses, we were committed to caring for our patients during their most difficult moments. What we did not sign up for is to care for patients without the PPE, safe staffing, proper rest breaks, the list goes on.
AVH once called us heroes, but now the hospital administration publicly scolds nurses, blaming nurse illness for their staffing shortages. Meanwhile, the CEO has ignored the fact that approximately 100 nurses at his hospital have contracted Covid at a time when more than 80,000 health care workers in California are infected with Covid.
Last month, city of Lancaster declared a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Mayor Parris said that the county had “failed” us. But nurses feel that the real failure is with Antelope Valley Hospital administration and Lancaster leadership.
Our hospital is at the center of the surge in Antelope Valley, an area the size of the state of Delaware. Our facility sees hundreds of Covid-19 patients from Antelope Valley on any given day. Our ICU is full. Our ER is overflowing. We have a charity setting up a field hospital in our parking lot.
Enough is enough. We call on hospital administration to actively recruit temporary and permanent staff; demand emergency assistance from Los Angeles County and the State of California; and provide a safe and respectful environment that will help retain experienced nurses who are committed to caring for our community.