Nurses at Van Nuys Behavioral Hospital have voted to authorize a strike, citing patient and employee safety concerns, staffing levels and worker retention issues, the union local representing the nurses said Wednesday.

The strike vote, taken during picketing outside the facility on Tuesday, gives the nurses’ bargaining unit authority to call a walkout, which could come as early as Feb. 14, according to a statement Wednesday by Local 121RN of the Service Employees International Union.

The local represents some 9,000 nurses at facilities throughout Southern California, including the 44 nurses employed at Van Nuys Behavioral, a union spokesman told City News Service. The hospital is a 57-bed facility.

“As a facility that treats patients facing mental health crises, Van Nuys Behavioral Health Hospital serves a particularly vulnerable patient population,” according to the union’s statement.

“As they rallied outside the hospital on Tuesday, nurses voiced a litany of alarming safety concerns — problems which they say have plagued the hospital for some time. As they navigate confrontational patient dynamics, nurses at the hospital worry that insufficient security will leave them unprotected.”

The hospital’s administrator, Nina Rosenfeld, referred inquiries to a media spokeswoman, who did not immediately reply to an email from CNS for management’s response to the union concerns.

According to the union, patients, including unhoused people, are sometimes released without a negative COVID-19 test, endangering the public.

Additionally, the union said, the hospital has failed, in some cases, to provide proper Personal Protective Equipment to employees to guard against airborne dangers.

A nurse quoted in the statement cited safety concerns among the employees.

“Nurses are expected to get an order for restraints by FaceTime because doctors are unavailable in house or unreachable over the phone, especially after hours,” said psych unit nurse Sheila Wells. “We need the ability and the resources to keep nurses and patients safe.”

To be a patient at Van Nuys Behavioral, there must be a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression or addiction, according to the hospital’s website.

The union’s contract expired on Dec. 31, and a negotiating session is scheduled for Thursday, Local 121RN Communications Director Hal Weiss told CNS.

The Feb. 14 date for a possible walkout was set to give the hospital at least 10 days notice of any possible walkout, as health care workers are required to provide by federal law, Weiss said.

“The nurses’ bargaining team has made common-sense proposals designed to keep their patients and their colleagues safe,” Rosanna Mendez, executive director of SEIU 121RN, said in a statement to CNS.

“Again and again, management has closed the door on these discussions. Their unfortunate response conveys an apathy toward the significant issues nurses are bringing up through bargaining such as retention, staffing, security, PPE, nurse and patient safety issues.

“If the contract is not settled (Thursday), an unfair labor practice strike may take place. Nobody wants that, and so we have high hopes that these negotiations will yield results.”

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