Hundreds of nurses and nurse practitioners picketed in front of Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center on Tuesday as part of a two-day strike at nearly 90 Northern California facilities over patient-care standards and Ebola preparedness.
Kaiser and the California Nurses Association on Tuesday sparred over how the ongoing dispute has been presented to the public.
Kaiser officials said the strike lacked a clear focus, criticizing the union for appearing to switch its message from a concern over a lack of Ebola precautions to more general complaints that understaffing and cuts have made it more difficult for nurses to care for patients.
Nurses on Tuesday insisted that the strike's function was to highlight eroding patient-care conditions, and those included concerns over their ability to adequately care for potential Ebola patients at local hospitals.
“What we're fighting for is patient safety and optimal patient care,” said Monique McCandlish, a registered nurse at Kaiser San Francisco's OB-GYN clinic. “Kaiser hasn't filled positions that have been vacated by retirees or transfers, and in turn … it's left us short-staffed in the clinic. We have one nurse doing the job of three nurses, and that's affecting patient care.”
Rebecca Goldfader, a nurse practitioner at Kaiser San Francisco, said nurses are also concerned by a lack of personal protective equipment to guard against possible Ebola cases. In Goldfader's unit at the hospital that includes about 50 doctors and nurses, she said she is aware of just five sets of personal protective equipment available.
“Ebola is symbolic of the degradation of patient care, and the lack of resources that we have as nurses and nurse practitioners in being able to care for our patients safely,” Goldfader said.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Kaiser officials said they were unsure why nurses decided to strike.
“We continue to be perplexed about why the nurses' union is striking,” the statement reads. “For weeks, union leadership has claimed to the public that this strike is about Ebola … In the last day or so, the union has changed its message and now says to the public that the strike is about 'staffing.'”
But Katy Roemer, a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland, countered that the strike has always been about a lack of patient-care resources and that Ebola was “the straw that broke the camel's back.”
“This about large, large patient-safety issues, and Ebola is a microcosm of what we see every day,” Roemer said.
Meanwhile, Kaiser said it is doing everything it can to prepare for the possibility Ebola.
“We continue to meet and exceed all national guidelines and are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of each nurse, physician and staff member who may be called upon to provide compassionate, high-quality care for a patient with the Ebola virus,” the statement reads.
Kaiser said its facilities are operating with normal business hours and services during the two-day strike, though some elective procedures and nonurgent appointments have been rescheduled.
Today, nurses at Kaiser and other medical centers including University of California centers are expected to join nurses in 14 other states and the District of Columbia to call for improved safeguards for Ebola care.