Kaiser nurses picket in Roseville over patient care, staffing levels

Health provider disputes claims
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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A platoon of crimson-clad nurses marched along Douglas Boulevard today, chanting and waving big picket signs that read, “Safe staffing now!”

According to the California Nurses’ Association, the reason for protest was to alert the public to “inadequate” staffing in Kaiser’s local emergency rooms, as well as ill-advised early discharges from hospitals, the overuse of 23-hour observation units and the frequent practice of turning patients away.

Kaiser Permanente’s Senior Vice President Gay Westfall is painting a very different picture of how things work at the Roseville hospital and surrounding Kaiser facilities.

One of the picketers was Catherine Kennedy, a 30-year nurse for Kaiser. Kennedy currently works at the intensive care nursery in Roseville’s medical center.

“We’re out here today because Kaiser is saying there is a surplus of nurses, and there’s not,” Kennedy said. “We’re tired of being understaffed and seeing patients’ care get delayed.”

In a statement to the media, Westfall emphasized that today’s protest was not a strike, and that all nurses at the picket lines were on their own time, thus preventing disruptions to service in Roseville or any of Kaiser’s other 20 medical centers. Westfall also denied that its hospitals are chronically understaffed.

“Our nurse staffing levels comply with, and sometimes exceed, state-mandated staffing requirements at our hospitals,” Westfall said.

Kennedy argued that Kaiser is not keeping up with its crowded waiting rooms because numerous patients are funneled into 23-hour observation units rather than doctor and nurse care. She also cited Kaiser’s over-reliance on temporary nurses that have no experience with regular patients or the needs of each community.

“If there’s not a big problem with their staffing levels, why do they keep utilizing temporary nurses?” Kennedy pointed out. “Instead of insisting there’s a surplus in nurses, they should really take a look at the needs of their patients.”

Joanne Imwalle, a 30-year veteran nurse who works at Kaiser’s Roseville hospital, agrees.

“All of the nurses out here today are bed-side nurses whose main job is to take care of patients,” Imwalle said. “Putting Kaiser’s corporate business agenda ahead of patients’ care and mental health services is just wrong. We have 500 documented episodes at the Roseville hospital alone of staffing issues that we believe compromised patients’ care.”

Westfall counters such assertions by saying Kaiser is revolutionizing health care through “transformative” preventive care, yielding a 62 percent drop in serious heart attacks and 26 percent drop in stroke mortality in the past four years.

Westfall also said that Kaiser is open to further dialog about nurse staffing levels.

“We have reached out to (California Nurses’ Association) to have a conversation about aligning staffing with the current number of patients in our hospitals,” Westfall said. “We have not discussed layoffs.”

Inwalle and her fellow nurses on the picket line are doubtful Kaiser will make the best decisions for its patients without major pressure from the public.

“We have a responsibility to be a voice for our patients,” Inwalle said. “So we had to bring it out into the streets to tell people what’s going on.”