Registered nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital staged a strike and suffered a lockout last week. Eighty-eight percent of a 660-member Staff Nurses Association voted. This was a painful decision; the safety of our patients hangs in the balance.
Historically, Memorial Hospital has chosen to make all "necessary" budget reductions from the front lines of patient care. On Aug. 20, the administrative team proposed something unprecedented: to eliminate all language pertaining to benefits and staffing from our union contract. Their plan involves significant reductions in all areas, and silences our voices from decisions about working conditions.
Our foremost concern is the ability to maintain safe staffing and provide high standards of care. One hundred and 50 patient-care positions were eliminated to "fix the budget" in 2009, creating a multitude of unsafe situations and increasing workplace stress and overtime. In 2010, nurses accepted wage freezes in return for restoring staff positions. During that period, Memorial increased administrative salaries in ranges of $25,600 to $158,300. Managers received incentive bonuses to decrease operating costs. The expectation became "do more with less," which literally translates to "give more with less."
For 37 years, the nurses' union at Memorial has survived multiple administrations and agendas. Millions of dollars have been wasted on poor planning; ill-conceived, failed and abandoned remodels; and cumbersome computer technologies that do not interface. So this year, Memorial has an "operating margin" of $38 million, yet drastic cuts in nursing staff, wages and benefits are necessary to afford new technologies and offset any Medicare losses. Perhaps CEO Deborah Proctor could contribute $1 million of her annual $3 million salary. Or the top tier administrators could contribute the $200,000 in "nontaxable benefits" they collectively receive each year. What else might be possible?
If Memorial Hospital would commit to listening to its patient-care staff instead of hiring "efficiency consultants" and flying administrators around the country looking for better ideas, much money could be redirected toward patient care. Nurses are the embodiment of St. Joseph's values: justice, dignity, service and excellence. We will not be silenced.
Kim Lewis and Patti Garrett are Registered Nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.'
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