The California Nurses Association, joined by the United Mine Workers of America, has filed suit to halt Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, Calif., from allegedly misrepresenting to the public a work redesign program the nurses say would endanger patients.
Alta Bates said the work restructuring is intended to increase the amount of time registered nurses spend on direct care instead of on tasks that could be performed by less-skilled personnel.
Work redesign is a response to "shrinking reimbursement, declining admissions and declining length of stay," Alta Bates President and Chief Executive Officer Albert L. Greene said in a letter to employees.
The new program initially will run as a pilot in two hospital units.
"Our hope is to demonstrate with these two units that we can in fact improve the amount of direct care that the nurse is giving," while freeing the nurse from tasks such as transporting patients and tending to paperwork, said Ellie Trondsen, a nurse and vice president of patient-care services at Alta Bates.
The new program would entail some layoffs of registered nurses, Ms. Trondsen conceded. "But we anticipate layoffs even if we don't redesign the system," she said.
Kit Costello, a nurse and CNA board member, told MODERN HEALTHCARE that Alta Bates' description of work redesign is "deceptive" because in the new systems in place at other hospitals "what nurses find is they don't see the patients much anymore." Nurses supervise unlicensed personnel who assume duties ranging from taking patient temperatures to suctioning airways, she said.
Negotiations are continuing between the hospital and the CNA "until we can reach some middle ground here," Ms. Trondsen said.
The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, also seeks to halt Alta Bates' alleged enforcement of a gag rule prohibiting its personnel "from alerting the public to changes in the quality of care" that work redesign could bring about, the CNA said.
The president of the UMWA, which represents nurses and other healthcare workers in several states, said the union considers the case to be of national significance.