RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – In the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus, registered nurse Mary Martin says it breaks her heart to admit it, but her patients are no longer getting her best self.
She joined dozens of her nurse colleagues from Riverside Community Hospital and went on strike over safe staffing.
“When I say I work 13 hours and I don’t get a drink of water, I’m not exaggerating. And, you know, I’m almost 52 years old and I’m a strong lady but I’m not that strong anymore,” Martin said.
Martin said the nurses protesting are demanding more staffing, more PPE, and more time for rest, especially now that the hospital is seeing a new wave of COVID-19 patients.
Martin says when front-line workers don’t feel protected, the patients are put at risk.
“It breaks my heart. The things sometimes that I see I can leave in tears. I have left in tears,” Martin said.
Due to the strike, Martin said the hospital has had to bring in outside staff and traveling nurses to fill in the gaps. This at a time when the county is seeing a massive new spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Riverside County health officials announced Monday that ICU beds were nearing 99 percent occupancy.
Riverside Community Hospital’s CMO, Dr. Saba Habis, said the facility had 69 ICU beds, 62 of which were currently occupied. About a third of those beds are coronavirus patients.
“It concerns me very much,” Dr. Habis said. “We have a plan to significantly expand our bed capacity.”
Dr. Habis said the hospital is prepared for a possible surge in hospitalizations but he will need to figure out staffing if new beds are created.
“It’s just unfortunate that we’re having a strike and folks are out versus caring for the patients,” Dr. Habis said.
Dr. Habis said the hospital has followed all CDC guidelines when it comes to PPE and patient safety and points to the hospital recently being awarded an “A” grade in a national hospital safety survey from Leapfrog as evidence of its commitment to care.
He said the rise in hospitalizations concerns him because this new wave of patients appears to be much younger than the first wave.
“The scope of presentation for this illness ranges from totally asymptomatic to death, and everything in between,” said Dr. Habis. “I plead to the people of Riverside, the county and the nation to exercise social distancing and mask wearing.”
The importance of protecting oneself seems to be the one thing both sides can agree on at this time.
“Wash your hands, social distance, go out if you need to but be careful about what you touch,” Martin said, adding that she has seen the virus be unpredictable. “I’ve seen miracles and I’ve seen some sad situations. “
Riverside Community Hospital released the following full statement to Spectrum News 1 in response to the nurse strike:
“Our goal from the beginning of the pandemic has been to protect our people by keeping them safe and keeping them employed. This is why we instituted a pandemic pay program, which has benefited many colleagues by providing them with 70% of their pay even when there has been no work. To date, HCA Healthcare has spent $160 million on pay continuation programs, providing continued paychecks to more than 140,000 colleagues. In stark contrast, SEIU 121RN wants to take nurses off their jobs for 10 consecutive days. During this unparalleled health crisis, this planned strike is a misguided tactic causing nurses to lose 1o days of wages and serves no benefit to our patients and this community.
Now more than ever is the time to support hospitals in the face of this great adversity; it is not the time to create conflict and spread misinformation. The motivation behind SEIU, 121RN’s strike has very little to do with the best interest of their members and everything to do with contract negotiations. However disappointing, we want our patients to know that, as always, we have plans in place to ensure appropriate staffing for any type of event, be it a natural disaster or labor strike. We will remain a steadfast resource for our community and will not allow this to derail our mission of caring for our patients and community. .
We encourage the SEIU 121 to reconsider their hasty decision to strike as it is not in the best interest of the members they claim to represent or the patients our nurses care deeply about. Our nurses are always welcome to return to their hospital at any point during this ill-advised 10-day strike.
Regarding staffing: Since March of 2019, Riverside Community Hospital has hired 691 employees, 307 of which were nurses. The hospital added a dedicated vascular access team, a code team, ancillary support staff and increased staffing in the ER. The hospital deployed more than $18 million in capital equipment to improve hospital operations. Through our combined efforts as a team, leadership and nursing, Riverside Community Hospital earned a patient safety grade A by the Leap Frog Group, a prominent national hospital safety rating organization.
Regarding PPE: Riverside Community Hospital has been doing everything in our power to protect our colleagues and patient care teams throughout the pandemic and equip them to provide safe, effective care to our patients by following or exceeding CDC protocols. We have provided appropriate PPE, including a universal masking policy requiring all staff in all areas to wear masks, including N95s, in line with CDC guidance. While we currently have adequate supplies of PPE, we continue to provide safeguards that are consistent with CDC guidelines and help ensure the protection of our colleagues, not only today, but into the future as the pandemic evolves. The SEIU fails to recognize the reality all hospitals nationwide are facing, that this pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, face shields, and gowns. This is especially surprising since the SEIU itself fell victim to an alleged N95 manufacturing scam that is now part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.
Regarding CARES Act funding: Similar to other healthcare providers, the spread of COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on Riverside Community Hospital, simultaneously reducing revenues and increasing expenses. The CARES Act funding HCA Healthcare hospitals have received to date represents only a portion of our anticipated lost revenue and increased expenses resulting from the pandemic. To provide even more perspective, HCA Healthcare’s 180 U.S. hospitals provide about 5 percent of all inpatient hospital services in the country while we have received less than 2 percent of the CARES Act provider relief funds distributed to date.”