Nurses, medical staff to strike at 3 local hospitals

Registered nurses and other healthcare professionals at three area hospitals have called a 10-day unfair labor practice strike, claiming their facilities are understaffed and lacking in adequate COVID-19 protections.

Workers at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Riverside Community Hospital and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center announced the action Monday following a strike authorization vote that won overwhelming support at each facility.

The employees, represented by SEIU Local 121 RN, plan to strike Dec. 24 through Jan. 3. Union members gave the hospitals 10 days advance notice to allow ample time to bring in temporary replacement staff.

All three facilities are owned by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America.

HCA’s response

In a statement released late Monday, HCA said the walkout will strain an already stressed healthcare network.

“A strike at this time further adds to the demands on the overburdened healthcare system in Southern California, which is already at bed and ICU capacities due to the nursing shortage and COVID-19 surge,” the company said.

The union’s decision, HCA said, will force the hospitals to limit their full scope of services in order to ensure nurses are available to care for patients with the highest needs.

HCA said the union has made false allegations and is using the deadly COVID-19 as a bargaining chip.

“Regardless, we will continue negotiating in good faith this week at the bargaining table – too many lives in Southern California depend on the vital services our hospitals provide,” the company said.

Staff at all three hospitals allege management was “alarmingly unprepared” for the pandemic and say the facilities have high infection rates among workers. Two workers at Riverside Community have already died, they said, and scores of others there have fallen ill, spreading the disease to co-workers and possibly otherwise-uninfected patients.

Employees at all three hospitals say they are dealing with aggressive rationing of protective equipment and staffing shortages — a situation that has forced some employees to work an entire shift without a break.

Erin McIntosh, a rapid response nurse at Riverside Community and a bargaining team member, said employees are looking for a level of accountability.

“We decided going into our contract negotiations with HCA that our line in the sand is getting strong pandemic safety guarantees,” McIntosh said in a statement.

Rosanna Mendez, the union’s executive director, said the bargaining team is asking for “very basic stuff,” including access to the proper equipment, enough staff on their floors, access to COVID-19 testing and safe quarantine policies.

HCA said the union caused a five-week delay by inviting third parties into the labor negotiations in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

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