JOSHUA TREE — More than 35 nurses from Hi-Desert Medical Center demonstrated with signs across from the hospital during a one-day strike Friday, Sept. 20.
The strike was organized by the California Nurses’ Association, the labor union that represents regional nursing staff. About 35-40 local nurses held signs and urged management to invest in nursing staff.
The nurses on strike stood near the intersection of Twentynine Palms Highway and White Feather Road and did not interrupt hospital operations.
Drivers on the highway and medical staff, including doctors leaving the hospital, honked in support of the nurses, said Matt Green, a nurse for the past 17 years.
“This community is very supportive,” Green said. “We’re getting support from the doctors. We live here; this community is our community.”
Registered nurses at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs also held a one-day strike Friday, along with nurses at six other Tenet-affiliated California facilities, in Modesto, San Ramon, Turlock, Los Alamitos, Templeton and San Luis Obispo.
Nurses on strike are urging management to invest in more nursing staff and reduce the hospitals’ dependence on on-call nurses.
“We want to see the patients get the best care possible,” Green said.
The nurses picketed in Joshua Tree early in the morning of May 28. This time they went a step further with a full strike.
“This is almost half of our nursing staff,” nurse Michele DeLuna said Friday morning. A nurse for 31 years, she works in the medical/surgical unit at Hi-Desert Medical Center.
“The strike goes for 24 hours. We’re doing it in shifts,” she explained.
About 100 nurses work at Hi-Desert Medical Center, DeLuna said. They gave managers a 10-day notice about the strike.
DeLuna was holding her red signs high early on Friday morning along with her co-workers. They also chanted out protests in unison with a leader on a loudspeaker.
“We are the union, the mighty, mighty union,” DeLuna and others chanted while holding up their signs.
DeLuna said nurses are working too many hours and not getting meal breaks or enough rest through their shifts.
According to the union, citing information supplied to CNA by Tenet, the company paid out nearly $8 million in penalty pay to registered nurses from 2016 to 2018 for more than 140,000 missed meal breaks in the California hospitals picketing.
In 2018 nurses at these hospitals reported more than 57,000 missed breaks, a 28 percent increase over 2016.
Research studies show that when RNs are able to take adequate rest and meal breaks. they are less likely to experience fatigue, which can lead to medical errors, and injuries to both nurses and their patients.
Data supplied through the union also shows that the targeted hospitals are increasingly using on-call nurses for the operating room and other units for regularly scheduled procedures and non-emergency situations, rather than using on-call the way nurses agree it is supposed to be used: for unexpected conditions.
When a nurse is on call, he or she is required to return to the hospital within 30 minutes; this includes nurses being called in after they’ve already worked an entire shift.
The union said in 2018, nurses worked more than two full weeks of overtime from on-call work and being called back in, including right after or within hours of completing a full shift. Since 2016, this practice has increased 48 percent.
Tenet spokesman Todd Burke said the strike did not interrupt the hospital.
“Hi-Desert Medical is fully staffed today and everything is running smoothly,” Burke said via email Friday.
“The hospital is fully operational, and our staff’s focus, as always, is on providing exceptional quality patient care and service. Patients and their loved ones can be assured that Hi-Desert Medical Center is staffed with qualified and experienced replacement nurses as well as all of our other caregivers through the strike’s duration.”
Burke said Tenet was disappointed that the union decided to strike. “We have made progress toward a new contract and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of resolution,” he said in a released statement.
“We value our relationship with all our employees, and we are committed to resolving these contract negotiations.”