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Nurses Gather to Outline Plan for Increased Staffing

Labor: St. John's Regional and Pleasant Valley employees say proposal is needed to improve patient care.


Nurses from St. John's Regional Medical Center and St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital unveiled a proposal for improved patient care Wednesday as they continued negotiating with management for their first union contract.

More than 40 nurses gathered outside St. John's in Oxnard to detail their plan, which hinges on increased staffing to provide adequate care for patients.

"Improving patient care at our hospitals and in our community is at the heart of our plan," said Pleasant Valley nurse Kathy Beaumont, who also sits on the 11-member team negotiating for a contract. "As nurses, we're the ones who provide care at the bedside, and we want a voice in the decisions on issues like staffing that affect the quality of care our patients receive."

Although the state is developing a minimum standard for nurse-to-patient ratios, nurses at St. John's and Pleasant Valley would like to have a plan tailored to the hospitals' individual needs.

There are more than 500 nurses employed at both hospitals, a number they say is not enough to handle current patient loads.

Nurses in the union say their staff needs to be increased to provide the level of care patients expect, and they want to play a larger role in developing hospital policy.

"There are some days when we are extremely short" of adequate staffing, said Mary Sorensen, a nurse at St. John's. "And I guess that what we want out of all of this is to take care of patients and do the right thing."

Since joining the Service Employees International Union in January, nurses have met with hospital management four times to forge a contract.

Those negotiations are still in their infancy, and the union has yet to finish detailing its proposal.

In addition to extra staffing, nurses are asking for a better benefits package and a choice of insurance providers, comprehensive family health care, a revised system of compensation, a better retirement package and a raise.

"The devil is in the details, as they say, and we have to keep in mind that we're asking them to give up some control, so we have be flexible," Beaumont said. "We're definitely willing to listen and compromise where we can. . . . It would be foolish not to."

Hospital administrators said they only recently received the nurses' proposal and will have to study it and discuss its specifics with the union.

However, they said they are open to nurses' suggestions and will consider them very carefully.

"We value their opinions greatly, and we are going to spend a lot of time looking at this very closely," said Jan Duffy, vice president of operations and chief nursing supervisor for both hospitals.

It may be difficult for the hospitals to meet all of the demands in the nurses' proposal.

Duffy said that staffing level and pay are both higher than the California average, and that in these times of diminishing health maintenance organization and Medicare reimbursements, every dollar spent must be carefully scrutinized to maintain the level of care.

In addition, hospitals are having to care for an aging population that often requires greater attention for longer periods of time.

That's understood, said SEIU communications director Lisa Hubbard, but as the first line of defense in health care, nurses want a say in what happens.

"That's the reason there has been such an increase in the number of nurses joining unions," she said. "They are all well aware of the squeeze managed care is having, and they just want to have a say so that the level of care provided to patients isn't compromised."

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