At least one nurse and several officials with the California Nurses Association held a small protest rally outside Washington Hospital today. While the nurse mainly talked about staffing concerns, the union officials said that hospital administrators ruled through fear and intimidation.
“They run this place like a mafia family,” said Tim Jenkins a Labor Representative for the California Nurses Association. “You step out of line and they take care of you.”
Jenkins and a few other protesters were joined by Dr. Evelyn Li, a candidate for the hospital’s board of directors. Li, a cardiologist who had worked at Washington, helped fund the documentary film, “Life for Sale,” which alleged the hospital released patients who were too stick to go home and retaliated against doctors who challenged hospital administrators.
Michelle Reed, who identified herself as a part-time Washington nurse, said her issue is that nurses sometimes feel obliged to forgo their state-mandated 30-minute lunch break and two 15-rest breaks because the hospital doesn’t provide proper coverage. Instead of assigning “break nurses,” who have no patients of their own to cover for nurses on their rest periods, Washington assigns nurses who already have a full load of patients, Reed said.
The upshot, according to Reed, is that nurses think twice about taking their breaks if they know their patients are in bad shape and the covering nurse has twice as many patients as he/she would otherwise have. “We’re trying to keep our patients safe,” she said. The administration has never pressured her to not take her breaks, Reed added.
Reed was joined by Connie Thomas, who said she had worked as a nurse for 39 years before retiring from Washington in 2005. Thomas said the lack of nurses to cover for breaks was her main reason for attending the rally. When I asked her about allegations made by the union officials at the rally and by doctors in the film that Washington administrators used fear of retaliation to keep employees in line, she replied:
“A lot of the nurses have to fly under the radar. They feel external pressure from management not to be verbal about work conditions.”
While I was at the rally, from about 10 to 10:30 a.m., Reed and Thomas were the only people who identified themselves to me as nurses who had worked at Washington. There were maybe 10 protestors standing on the sidewalk of Mowry Avenue. I will post Washington’s reply in a couple of minutes.