Nurses union officials and Los Angeles County labor leaders temporarily suspended negotiations Monday after deadlocking over a new wage package.
But with nurses back on the job in response to last week's court order, county health officials were "cautiously reopening hospitals on a patchwork basis," said Carl Williams, director of hospitals for the county Department of Health Services.
He said that administrators were gradually trying to admit new patients and restore full medical services.
Richard Cordova, a spokesman for the 1,400-bed County-USC Medical Center, said the emergency room was reopened to trauma cases Monday morning and about 50 outpatient clinics were fully open. He said he anticipated some elective surgery will be performed today, for the first time in a week.
In an apparent one-day wildcat walkout, about 25% of the medical center's medical technologists, who staff the hospital laboratories, failed to report to work Monday morning in protest of progress on negotiations of their own labor contract. But Cordova said their jobs were covered by supervisory personnel with no disruption in service.
Handfuls of doctors continued picketing at the medical center in protest of the county's move to "contract out" for services of resident physicians. But the impact of the work action on patient care was minimal, they acknowledged, mainly because the doctors left the picket line to check on their patients whenever their beepers went off.
Jill Mines, spokeswoman for the Joint Council of Interns and Residents representing about 800 resident doctors at County-USC, said that the doctors' complaints are "so intertwined" with the nurses' that they will join nurses today in a protest before the Board of Supervisors at the Hall of Administration downtown.
The board is scheduled to act on a motion by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn to break the nurses' negotiations logjam by offering the nurses more money.
"His motion is to give the nurses basically what they want," said Abby Haight, spokeswoman for Local 660 of the Services Employees International Union, which represents 4,000 nurses countywide. "We are hopeful there will be some movement."
Two of the supervisors have been out of town recently, but all five are expected to be present at today's meeting.
"So there should be an opportunity for the board to face the issues squarely," Haight said.
County labor leaders were unavailable for comment.
After talking through the weekend, Haight said that negotiations were suspended at 1 a.m. Monday "because everybody had to get some rest." She said talks are expected to resume in a couple days.
The county has offered the nurses a 14.5% pay raise for two years or 20% for three years.
The nurses are seeking a 19.5% pay raise over two years, as well as better staffing and improved working conditions. The residents, who are doctors in training under the supervision of senior physicians, say that the county's move to contract out for their services will ultimately kill their bargaining unit and downgrade patient care.
The Hospital Council of Southern California, which represents more than 200 private and public hospitals in the Southland, issued a statement Monday declaring that county nurses are currently being paid "only slightly (4%) below what is paid to most of the nurses in private hospitals."
"The county offer of 14.5% would put county nurses well above (7%) the area average. The union demand would put the nurses 28% above the area average," the statement said.
The county's proposed salary hike of 14.5% would cost the taxpayers an additional $26 million in nursing salary costs, according to the council, and could be expected to trigger "spiraling wage demands" among nurses in the private sector amounting to an additional $63 million. If the nurses' proposed wage hike of 19.5% is accepted by the county, the council reported that it would cost the county $36 million and "general parallel increases of $100.3 million" in the private sector.
A court order issued last week brought nurses back to work in full force at the county's more than 200 public health centers and six hospitals. With the patient census at hospitals reduced by about one-third overall, Haight said that patient care "is on an improved track."
In the neonatal intensive-care unit at Women's Hospital, nurse Lisa Nicholson said the babies there have never gotten better supervision.
About 15 nurses were on hand to treat only four sick infants Sunday afternoon, she said.
The unit has room for 50 infants. All but a few were transferred to private hospitals when the nurses walked out.
Cordova said the number of babies had grown to 10 Monday, with "about 10 nurses" scheduled to work. He said that the administration has been reluctant to bring back all the babies who were transferred to private hospitals because "negotiations are so tenuous that we don't want to bring them all back and then have to transfer them out again."
Medical Center officials would not give reporters access to the premises Monday without special permission from public relations officials. One news reporter was ordered out of a public corridor at County-USC by two security guards and a plainclothes officer.