Nurses launched a 10-day strike Friday at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, accusing hospital management of failing to address short staffing that they said could jeopardize patients, broken and substandard equipment, and inadequate safeguards to protect nurses from violent attacks.
Members of SEIU 121RN, which represents hundreds of registered nurses at the Monterey Park hospital, are expected to strike through Aug. 27. The Friday kickoff of the week-and-a-half-long strike was joined by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and California Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who cheered alongside workers clad in purple shirts.
“You deserve to have working medical equipment like defibrillators and cardiac monitors. … You deserve to have safe working conditions where you don’t have to deal with patients who bring in knives and guns and other kinds of weapons. That’s not right,” Chu told the crowd to applause.
Garfield Medical Center said it had retained “qualified replacement nurses” to care for patients during the strike. “We are disappointed that SEIU 121RN is taking this unnecessary and lengthy strike action, which we believe is an irresponsible attempt to damage our hospital,” the hospital said in a statement.
The hospital said its staffing levels and the condition of its equipment had never compromised care for its patients. It said its nurses had the equipment needed to care safely for people, that it had taken steps to protect its workers from violence, and that nationwide nurse shortages were affecting “virtually every hospital,” including Garfield, which had offered sign-on bonuses and held job fairs to attract new hires.
“We believe the union is being disingenuous about its real reason for calling this strike,” the hospital said in its statement. “What it really comes down to is money,” specifically a proposed increase in salaries that the union had rejected.
SEIU 121RN executive director Rosanna Mendez said the hospital was “deflecting from the real issues they’re failing to address.” The union said it had tried to avoid a strike, but decided the action was necessary because the employer refused to take the concerns raised by nurses seriously.
“What [nurses] said is, ‘You can’t just give us money and not fix the issues that are preventing us from doing our jobs safely,’” Mendez said.
Union members said that Garfield Medical Center, a 210-bed general acute care hospital, has been chronically short on staff due to high turnover as nurses have left for other facilities with better conditions or pay. Such shortages have strained the remaining nurses and put patients at risk, nurses said at a Friday rally.
“When you’re doing the job of two or three people, it limits our ability to meet all the needs, because we’re spread out too thin,” said Christina Smith, a registered nurse who has worked at Garfield for more than three decades. “We don’t have enough resources to do our job.”
Mendez said that “patients don’t get their medications on time. Sometimes they need assistance going to the restroom and they fall, because there’s not enough staff to help them.” Earlier this year, Garfield Medical Center was faulted by state investigators for failing to set out a care plan for a patient at high risk for falls. Nurses found that patient on the ground in their room and called a “code blue” for a life-threatening emergency, the state found.
Mendez said the hospital was “absolutely” out of compliance with state requirements for nurse staffing. Garfield Medical Center said that was untrue and that it does a daily assessment of its staffing needs to make sure it had the appropriate number of nurses in each hospital unit.
“This can be a challenge, as it is for many hospitals throughout California, but we have never been penalized by the state for being out of compliance with nurse staffing ratios,” the hospital said in a written response to questions.
Union members also said that shoddy and broken equipment has been a concern. Rachel Matteson, a critical care nurse at Garfield Medical Center, said that when one of her patients was in need of blood transfusions, she had to “MacGyver something” because the special kind of tubing that she needed was not available.
“Half an hour later, finally I figured something out,” she said, “but a half an hour is a lifetime for a critical patient. This decision to continue to cut costs is threatening patients’ lives.”
Garfield Medical Center said it had never been out of tubing for blood transfusions. It also balked at statements from the union that hospital management had rejected proposals to improve security at the facility. In a statement, it said it had taken steps including providing handheld metal detection wands in its emergency department entrances and lobby “to be used when admitting patients suffering a mental health crisis.”
Mendez said that didn’t match what nurses had reported on the ground. She called the hospital response to its concerns “insulting to nurses who are living the reality.”