“It is inappropriate and irresponsible for the California Nurses Association labor union to exploit this tragedy to further their union agenda,” CHA President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a statement issued late Sunday. “This is the same union that has taken nurses away from patient bedsides more than 100 times during the past three years. It also is unfortunate that the nurses union is questioning the qualifications of other nurses providing patient care.”
The 66-year-old patient died Saturday night while at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland. Authorities said the patient likely died from a medical error— the wrong dosage of a nonprescribed medication administered by a replacement nurse. Nurses across California last week left their jobs as part of three days of strikes, including a one-day strike Thursday at hospitals at Sutter Health, the parent of Alta Bates Summit.
Following the patient's death, the California Nurses Association organized a candlelight vigil Sunday night after issuing its own statement early in the day. The union said its nurses were locked out and couldn't return to their jobs Friday after Thursday's work stoppage. The union claimed some nurses were barred from their posts by armed security guards. CNA and National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro called the lockout irresponsible. The union asked the California Department of Public Health to investigate the death.
“This disgraceful and unsafe lockout is the latest indication of Sutter's disregard for its patients and nurses, which is also seen in its drastic cuts in patient services across the region and the nearly 200 demands Sutter has made for sweeping reductions in nurses and patient care standards,” DeMoro said in the statement.
The union also noted striking nurses at Kaiser Permanente facilities, unlike Sutter Health, were allowed to return to work the next day.
Dauner, of the Sacramento, Calif.-based CHA, responded and said hospitals had little choice than to hire replacement nurses. He also defended the skills of those temporary workers.
“If the union believes the use of licensed replacement nurses is a threat to public safety, then why have they chosen to pursue a pattern of waging strikes on a routine basis?” he said.
The union is protesting contract concessions at Sutter, including the elimination of paid sick leave, which they say is a threat to patient safety. Sutter officials said they're offering nurses 40 paid days off a year and that an average registered nurse's annual salary of $136,000 is proof of how their nurses are respected.
CNA spokesman Charles Idleson said nurses have been told the lockout will end Tuesday. He isn't surprised by Dauner's words, saying Sutter failed to ensure patient safety. About 5,000 Sutter nurses in 21 hospitals were involved in the strike. If the patient's death happened on Thursday, the day of the strike, that wouldn't have changed the union's response, as Idelson said the union informed Sutter officials about the work stoppage two weeks before to be better-prepared. The union also had nurses on call the day of the strike if the hospital staff needed them.
“It's their responsibility to assure the safety of their patients,” he said. “If they want us to run the hospital, we'll do it, and for non-profit.”