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Orange County

Jail Nurses Ready to Battle Cuts

The union says it will seek a restraining order to stop $6 million in reductions if county health care officials refuse to negotiate.

June 21, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Angry at the prospect of slashing staff, Orange County Jail nurses may go to court in an attempt to stop the Health Care Agency from implementing $6.1 million in reductions because officials have refused to negotiate with them, a union spokesman said Friday.

Seventy-two positions could be eliminated from the agency's medical and mental health programs by July 1. Because of the state's budget crisis, the county's health agency has had to trim $23 million out of its proposed $474-million budget for 2003-04.

But union officials say that the reductions threaten to reduce inmate services.

For example, union officials said, evening and weekend medical services at the James A. Musick Branch Jail in Irvine, a minimum-security facility housing about 1,250 inmates, have been terminated.

If health care officials fail to negotiate, the union will seek a temporary restraining order Tuesday, said Nick Berardino, Orange County Employees Assn. assistant general manager.

On Friday, about 30 nurses protested the budget cuts in front of Orange County Jail in Santa Ana. Joined by doctors, they handed out leaflets urging visitors to contact their attorneys to determine if an inmate "would be negatively impacted" by the reduction in services.

Berardino said the cuts that affect workload and working conditions have been proposed without conferring with the nurses.

"The nurses are saying it's going to come to the point that their licensure is going to be in jeopardy," he said.

"The jail has already lost its accreditation as a medical jail facility. The major problem is that under the law, they have to negotiate with the union when it comes to the workload," Berardino added.

"We've been asking to meet with [county officials] since May 30 but they've been dragging their feet."

Of the 72 positions, 28 have been vacant for more than a year, two nurses retired and another nurse was released while on probation, said Pat Markley, a health care agency spokeswoman.

But Markley said the loss of accreditation from the Institute for Medical Quality occurred because the county chose not to renew it.

"We knew that we were facing tough budget times and knew that we probably wouldn't meet those very high quality standards. But we meet all legal requirements for medical services at the jail," she said.

Markley acknowledged that the cuts mean more work with fewer people but added that the agency has consolidated services and is in compliance with legal requirements for correctional health care.

"We've been meeting with OCEA officials and will continue to work with them," she said.

It was unclear just how frequently the two sides have been meeting.

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