More than 50 registered nurses held an informational picket outside Desert Regional Medical Center Wednesday to raise awareness of what they call chronic understaffing and high turnover in their ranks as their union negotiates a new contract with the hospital’s owner, Tenet Healthcare Corporation.
“It needs to be exposed, and it’s not right and it’s very shameful what Tenet continues to practice with this staffing crisis when they definitely have the means to bump up staff and hire permanent nurses,” said Linda Serrano, a surgical care unit nurse who took part in the picket.
Serrano said that, during a typical work day, she has five patients under her care but sometimes has contact with as many as eight — while California’s safe staffing ratios laws say the licensed nurse-to-patient ratio in medical/surgical care units should be 1-to-6 or fewer at all times.
The nurses who stood outside Desert Regional on Wednesday collected more than 90 signatures from other nurses who indicated that, between January and the present, they too were out of ratio, Serrano said.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United union — which is negotiating with Tenet over a new contract — says Desert Regional has lost 137 nurses since the COVID-19 pandemic started, claiming that a high percentage who were hired between 2019 and 2021 quit due to unsustainable workplace conditions.
A spokesman for Desert Regional conceded earlier this week the hospital has been dealing with staffing issues, but stressed the facility is “exercising all options” to bolster its ranks and is committed to reaching a labor agreement with unionized nurses.
Richard Ramhoff, the group marketing director at Desert Regional Medical Center, said Tenet is negotiating with the union and bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement.
“Like many hospitals across the country, we have been facing staffing challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, and we remain committed to doing everything possible to stay well-staffed,” Ramhoff said.
“To support our care teams, we have been exercising all options available to us. We are working with our staffing agency to bring traveler nurses onboard and we are continuously working to recruit additional nurses.”
In addition, with COVID-19 hospitalizations now low, intensive care unit nurse-to-patient ratios have been maintained, according to a statement Wednesday from the Desert Care Network.
“To suggest that our hospital is not willing to invest in nursing care for our patients is just not correct,” Ramhoff said Wednesday.
The picket at Desert Regional was one of several staged at Tenet hospitals Wednesday. Others took place in Joshua Tree, Los Alamitos, Manteca, Modesto, San Luis Obispo, San Ramon, Templeton and Turlock. The union represents about 3,700 RNs at the facilities.
“For the past two years, Tenet Healthcare has failed to prepare for the pandemic, prioritizing its profits over its responsibility to provide safe patient care,” Laura Bruce, a registered nurse at Desert Regional, said in a statement released by the union earlier this week.
The union also accuses Tenet hospitals of mishandling rest and meal breaks and opting to pay nurses penalty wages to sacrifice their breaks instead of hiring more nurses.
Intensive care unit nurses had assignments of up to four patients when the state’s safe staffing ratios laws state that they should have a maximum of two patients, under Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations, according to union representatives. They also claimed that telemetry unit nurses had assignments of up to six patients when they should have a maximum of four.
“We demand that Tenet comply with state hospital staffing laws by taking immediate action to retain and recruit the staff we need to provide quality care. They have the resources,” Bruce said.
Tenet Healthcare is a multinational company based in Dallas that operates 65 hospitals and more than 450 healthcare facilities.