Nurses Strike for Safe Staffing

October 28, 2010

On October 26th, some 300 nurses in California walked off the job at Watsonville Community Hospital.

A one-day strike was called by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United after 8 different proposals by the nurses for safe staffing levels were ignored by hospital management during months of contract negotiations. According to the union press release, "Inadequate and often unsafe staffing – and the hospital’s refusal to address RN proposals to improve patient safety – are at the center of the dispute. The RNs have criticized hospital management for its failure to provide break relief for nurses, improve staffing in pediatric care and other hospital units, and its reduction of support staff for the RNs."

The press release highlighted the fact that the nurses organized "a patient care task force available to assist in the hospital in the event of genuine patient emergencies."

The press release also pointed out that, "RNs note the intransigence by management has grown substantially since the former community hospital was acquired by Tennessee-based Community Health System, the largest and one of the most profitable, publicly traded hospital systems in the U.S. CHS is in conflict with its nurses from California to Pennsylvania for reducing patient services and seeking to lower standards for nurses and other caregivers, and with communities for failing to meet its commitments to maintain or expand facilities and services."

All across the country, staffing levels are a major issue facing health care workers and patients. Over the last several years, the big for-profit hospital chains and managed care corporations have been continuously cutting back on nurses and other staff. More and more patients are assigned to fewer and fewer nurses. More responsibilities are piled onto the nurses and other workers. This systematic overwork and understaffing puts patients at risk. Study after study has shown that hospital staffing levels are one of the most vital factors determining the quality of care and that understaffing leads to increased medical complications.

The root problem is that the profit-motive is in command of our country's health care system. The for-profit hospitals and managed care corporations are not motivated by the need to provide quality health care for the people but solely by the drive to maximize profit. And profits are maximized by 1) minimizing and denying care to patients 2) increasing the exploitation of nurses and other workers to the maximum. Instead of rewarding health care workers based on their vital role in providing high quality care, the capitalists seek only to get maximum work in the shortest period of time out of the fewest possible workers.