Uploaded: Tuesday, June 7, 2000 1 PM

Stanford nurses go on strike

Shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, night shift nurses walked out of the main entrance to Stanford Hospital to the cheers and applause of hundreds of other nurses.

Darren Batara and Jeanette Sobejana (left) walk the picket lines outside Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's hospitals Wednesday morning, where more than 1,700 members of the nurses union have gone on strike.

Photos by
Robert Bradshaw

After negotiating until 12:40 a.m., contract talks ended and about 1,730 nurses at Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's hospitals went on strike.

The two sides are far apart on salary. The final positions before the 7 a.m. walkout were 21.5 percent in pay raises over two years by the union and 8 percent over two years by the hospitals.

Staffing and health care benefits are also being negotiated.

The hospitals have hired replacement nurses from a Denver-based nursing agency, U.S. Nursing Corp.

Inside both hospitals, physicians and administrators could be seen huddling, making arrangements to continue with hospital operations. Information tables for the replacement nurses were set up in the main hospital's first-floor cafeteria.

The hospital patient census remained high, and hospital spokesman Mike Goodkind said there was no attempt to reduce the number of inpatients before the strike.

Although several hundred replacement nurses were working, not everything went smoothly immediately after the strike begun.

After nurses from various hospital units walked out at 7 a.m., the nurses' union, the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement, announced at 7:30 that nurses in Packard's pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were still working.

Later, the hospital made a formal request for the Packard nurses to remain on duty.

Linda Cerini, a NICU nurse, came out at one point to confer with CRONA president Sue Weinstein. Cerini said the NICU had about 35 patients and more than 20 nurses, but only six replacement nurses had shown up.

"We will not abandon our patients," Weinstein said. "We are asking for a formal request (from the hospital) to stay."

"Several NICU nurses have agreed to stay to help critically ill patients," Goodkind later confirmed. "We're all looking for patient care and patient safety."

Staffing in other areas of the hospital was more than adequate. A group of nurses from the maternity and well-baby wards said a sufficient number of replacement nurses had shown up at their wards.

For some nurses, patient safety will be an issue during the strike, with 400-500 replacement nurses working 12-hour shifts, possibly day after day. On many nursing units, full-time CRONA nurses typically work three 12-hour shifts a week.

Sean Garvey holds a sign for his mother, one of the striking

"Absolutely, we have fears about patient safety," Weinstein said.

There are also nursing shortages in some areas, which means many nurses often work overtime, said Kim Griffin, spokeswoman for CRONA and a radiology nurse. Griffin said the operating rooms are among the most short-staffed.

"There is no mandatory overtime," Griffin said, "but when you're in the middle of a liver transplant operation that will take four more hours, you don't leave because your shift is over."

Nurses in both the maternity and adult intensive care units said voluntary overtime is common in their units to make up for staffing needs.

"You can't adequately take care of your patients when you're tired and there's too much to do," said Laura Heldebrant, an adult ICU nurse. "In our unit, we're sad because of our patients. We don't like to leave our patients."

Heldebrant added that family members of ICU patients "have been very supportive, because they see our work and value it."

Felix Barthelemy, Stanford Hospital vice president for human resources, said Monday, "Quality, safe patient care is our highest priority and we will continue to monitor closely the care our patients will be receiving."

As of early Wednesday afternoon, no new negotiating sessions had been set. CRONA called for a membership meeting Thursday afternoon in front of the hospital.

Weinstein said a federal mediator has been participating in the talks.

Just before the strike, both sides expressed a willingness to keep talking. "We're willing, but we have nothing scheduled," Weinstein said Wednesday morning.

--Don Kazak