Kaiser Permanente’s 18,000 nurses in Northern California began a two-day strike Tuesday, a work stoppage they say is not about pay but about staffing.
The strike by the California Nurses Association affects Kaiser hospitals in Roseville, Sacramento and south Sacramento. The hospital chain has vowed to keep the facilities open.
Clement Miller, the chief nursing officer at Kaiser’s Sacramento Medical Center on Morse Avenue and a registered nurse, said Kaiser will be ready to operate with normal business hours and services during the walkout.
“We are open for business,” said Miller. “Our patients can come to us and be confident that they will receive excellent care.”
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Kaiser said some elective procedures and appointments without urgency will be rescheduled. The strike began at 7 a.m. with nurses appearing outside Sacramento-area hospitals.
Nurse union representatives said the big issue is that Kaiser is not hiring enough nurses. The nurses’ labor contract ended Aug. 31 and both parties agreed to extend it twice. It has now expired.
“The strike is about providing adequate staffing for the nurses throughout the 21 medical centers, as well as our call centers, clinics and home health and hospice,” said Catherine B. Kennedy, chief nurse representative for CNA at Kaiser Roseville Medical Center and clinics.
Kennedy said that Kaiser uses so-called “traveling nurses” from other states instead of hiring nurses graduating from the state’s nursing schools. In addition, the chain is not filling positions left vacant through attrition, she claims.
Kennedy said Kaiser patient memberships – and nurses’ workloads – have increased since Covered California, the state’s version of Obamacare, launched earlier this year.
Miller said staffing at Kaiser hospitals meets, and in many cases exceeds, state-mandated ratios. Kaiser does hire travel nurses to meet urgent needs, but the hospital chain also is hiring nurses just out of colleges, he said.
As for the claim that positions remain unfilled, Miller said: “We are learning to work more efficiently. Also, we are learning that patients don’t always want to or need to have their care provided in a hospital. So, at times, patients want to have their care provided while at home. So we are moving jobs to those areas. We may not need as many nurses in the hospital as we have had in the past.”
Kaiser said it is baffled why the union would call a strike.
“There is never a good time for a strike,” an ad taken out by the company in The Sacramento Bee on Sunday read. “Calling one now, just as we are entering the flu season, and when the nation and our members are concerned about the risk of Ebola, seems particularly irresponsible.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.