Strike forces hospital slowdown

The county-run San Mateo Medical Center has canceled patient appointments, diverted ambulances to surrounding hospitals and refused new patients Monday, in preparation for a two-day nurses strike scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.

Dozens of patients were immediately affected Monday, with that number expected to increase as the strike continues through Friday at 7 a.m., officials said.

The medical center plans to bring in 50 temporary nurses to care for patients during the strike, spokesman Dave Hook said.

By closing to new patients prior to the strike, the San Mateo Medical Center hopes to thin the number of patients needing care prior to the walkout, Hook said.

“This is the best way to provide safe patient care knowing that we can't continue to see everyone we otherwise would,” he added.

Nurses and the county are at an impasse on salary and benefits, including proposals by the county to shift more health benefits costs to nurses, limit the amount of overtime pay, and increase salaries for difficult-to-recruit positions above those of other nurses, assistant personnel director Tim Sullivan said.

The California Nurses Association has demanded an across-the-board raise for all nurses, which county officials claim will cost $29 million over three years. The CNA says the county is attempting to weaken the union and treat nurses unfairly by offering varying raises to different types of nurses.

Low salaries and diminishing benefits — compared to other Peninsula hospitals — has led to high turnover rates and large numbers of temporary staff, among county nurses, according to Joanne Jung, negotiator for the union. The county maintains that nurses' salaries and turnover rates are comparable with surrounding counties.

If a last-minute deal isn't reached, the nurse's strike will be thefirst in the county's history and involve about 380 county nurses. All told, it has the potential to affect thousands of patients, Hook said.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill called the closure a “tragedy,” saying the county and nurses' union continued meeting with a state mediator Friday and Monday looking for a way to resolve their differences. “I'm hoping that the public does not unduly suffer because of this,” Hill said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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