An example of a nurse preparing to interact with a patient. Photo from Pixabay.
A nurse wears a mask. Photo from Pixabay.

Registered nurses at Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital will begin a two-day strike Tuesday, protesting what they claim are “unsafe staffing conditions” at the university-affiliated health facilities.

Labor representatives from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United — representing more than 1,400 nurses at the two hospitals — said nearly all nurses voted in June to authorize the strike. They plan to picket outside on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a virtual rally to be livestreamed at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday from Keck’s front entrance sidewalk at 1500 San Pablo St.

“We don’t want to strike, but our patients’ safety is jeopardized by chronic short staffing and the hospital’s excessive reliance on outside contractors without the appropriate skill mix to provide safe care,” Keck Hospital nurse Joshua Duarte said in a statement released by the union. “USC needs to do better.”

Nationwide, health care systems are facing a shortage of nursing and other clinical staff.

Keck Medicine of USC officials said they are disappointed the union called for a strike following more than 40 bargaining sessions and recently reaching a tentative agreement. USC nurses have been in negotiations since November 2020 for a new contract.

“Our top priority during the strike — as always — is the safety and well-being of our patients and employees,” according to a statement from Keck Medicine. “Hospital and clinic operations remain open and fully staffed with doctors, nurses and all other clinical professionals, as we continue our commitment to exceptional patient care and safety.”

Due to the union’s decision to call a strike, Keck Medicine hired contract replacement nurses for a minimum of five days. Accordingly, nurses represented by the union will not be scheduled to work for five days, beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“At Keck Medicine, we are committed to safely staffing and have had a strong year recruiting nurses, including a new group starting this month,” Keck officials said. “Our staffing levels are regularly audited by the California Department of Public Health, and these audits confirm that even during the height of the pandemic, our staffing levels were consistently higher than required.”

Union leaders said they want to see Keck Medicine management invest in more nursing staff. They also want perioperative nurses to have “appropriate rest periods between shifts” to prevent sleep-deprivation and for the hospital to provide rotations for nurses in infectious disease units to help address “moral, physical, and emotional distress” and to improve nurse retention.

“USC claims they have no problems hiring nurses, so I have to ask myself why our hospital is chronically short staffed,” said Michael Simonton, RN in the Intensive Care Unit at USC Norris Cancer Hospital.

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