Uploaded: Tuesday, June 8, 2000 3 PM
Hospitals scramble to maintain nursing staff
With their nurses on strike for a second day and no new negotiating sessions
scheduled, officials at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital have transported
less-critically ill patients to other facilities.
Meanwhile, some of the 1,730 Packard and Stanford hospital nurses who
went on strike Wednesday are again walking picket lines today, as the
impasse with hospital officials over wage and other issues continues.
Packard Hospital sharply reduced its census to allow the hospital to
cope with a shortage of pediatric nurses among the replacement nurses
recruited for the strike's duration. As at Stanford Hospital, the replacement
nurses were brought in from a Denver-based agency.
For the time being, Packard Hospital also is delaying cases of elective
surgery, officials said.
The nurses' union, the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement,
and hospital administrators are far apart on salary. When contract talks
ended at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, the union was proposing 21.5 percent in
pay raises over two years while the hospitals were proposing 8 percent
over two years.
Staffing and health-care benefits are also at issue.
Contract talks could be complicated by hospital projections of a combined
operating loss of $40 million this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.
Felix Barthelemy, vice president for human resources at the two hospitals,
said Stanford Hospital showed a small operating loss last year while Packard
Hospital had a modest operating gain.
"Even though we're facing a $40 million loss, we anticipated normal pay
raises to keep us competitive" with other hospitals, Barthelemy said.
CRONA nurses are among the higher-paid hospital nurses in the Bay Area,
Barthelemy said, especially at the top end of the pay scale.
Pay for a CRONA nurse with 20 years' experience is $37.43 an hour, while
beginning nurses earn $24.41 to $27.46 an hour.
Barthelemy said the two hospitals plan to break even in the fiscal year
beginning Sept. 1.
Although several hundred replacement nurses are working, not everything
went smoothly when the strike begun.
At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, a half-hour after nurses from various hospital
units left their jobs, the union announced that nurses from Packard's
pediatric and neonatal intensive care units were still working.
Later, the hospital made a formal request for the Packard nurses to stay
on the job.
Linda Cerini, a neonatal nurse, came out at one point to confer with
union president Sue Weinstein. Cerini said the neonatal unit required
staffing of about 20 nurses, but only six replacement nurses had shown
"We will not abandon our patients," Weinstein said. "We are asking for
a formal request (from the hospital) to stay."
"Several (neonatal) nurses have agreed to stay to help critically ill
patients," hospital spokesman Mike Goodkind later confirmed. "We're all
looking for patient care and patient safety."
CRONA nurses also worked in the pediatric unit after the strike began.
"They were very generous and professional," said Barthelemy.
About 500 nurses, including nurse managers and replacement nurses, were
working in the two hospitals Wednesday after the strike began.
Bathelemy said the two hospitals before the strike had about 100 nursing
vacancies, mostly in the more specialized areas of the intensive care
units and operating rooms.
Of the 1,730 nurses who work at the two hospitals, fewer than half, or
about 750, work full time. The rest work part-time, maybe two or three
shifts a week.
"We have tremendous flex in our operations," Barthelemy said. When the
patient census goes up, some part-time nurses work extra shifts. And when
the hospitals are short of ICU or operating room nurses, the hospitals
typically use nurses from an agency.
So although a number of agency nurses are in the hospitals because of
the strike, Barthelemy said, their presence is not unusual: On a typical
day, 10 to 12 agency nurses work in the operating rooms.
The strike by the nurses' union is its second at Stanford, the first
walkout coming in 1974.