Nurses Union Demands Hospitals “Put Patients Before Profits”

Thousands of registered nurse and health care worker members of National Nurses United (NNU), the country’s largest union and professional association of RNs, held peaceful protests inside and outside of hospitals and medical centers in more than 19 states — including California — and the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Jan. 27, to demand their employers “put patients first” in how patient care is delivered.

In Southern California, scheduled demonstrations and protests included Keck Hospital of USC in Los Angeles, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, and Southern California Hospital in Culver City.

The hospital industry’s response to COVID-19 “has demonstrated to nurses and patients” that they may attempt to implement their long-desired goal of restructuring the industry to prioritize profits — a direction that nurses and health care workers warn is bad for patient and worker safety, a spokeswoman for the demonstrations said.

“We’re basically union nurses taking a collective action.” said Sandy Reding, a registered nurse in Bakersfield who is also president of California Nurses Association.

“We’re calling for this ‘Day of Action’ to demand that our corporate hospital employers put patients’ and nurses’ and other healthcare workers over high profits,” Reding said. “Healthcare workers throughout the US are holding actions outside and inside our facilities to highlight why we need some change. We have to prioritize health and safety over high profits.”

Noting that the nation has been in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, Reding said, “people of color” have disproportionally high numbers of COVID-19 patients in need of hospital treatment and care.

“I’m going to speak candidly from the heart,” she said. “The nursing profession is predominantly female so we see this as a gender issue. We also see it as a racial issue, because, every day in my practice, I see those contracting COVID are predominantly people of color. In my area, it’s primarily the Latino community that’s effected. But we also see that Filipinos are disproportionately affected; same with the Black community. It’s a real problem.

“[The nursing profession] is being stretched to a breaking point, and I think we’ve all known this surge was coming. Everybody knew if you watched the news at all. And it should have been planned appropriately [for the surge].”

Just as important, Reding said, is  providing more and better personal protective equipment for nurses, including N95 respirators and gowns.

NNU officials say they have documented nearly 3,000 health care worker deaths in the United States due to COVID-19. That number includes more than 310 RN deaths. They say these numbers are a drastic undercount of true health care worker mortality figures.

“We want to be there [for patients]. But we also have to have the proper, and optimal, personal protective equipment,” Reding said. “That means medical grade N95s, and not reusing them but having single use to prevent transmission.

“What’s especially concerning is, the new virulent strain we’re seeing in California, and the high transmission rate for that. We don’t have enough PPE and enough proper types of PPE that is medical grade and splash-proof. We’ve made requests, we’ve made demands. We’ve substantiated our cries for assistance. It’s fallen on deaf ears, and our corporate employers are failing us. It’s obvious from our pandemic experience that we’re not valued. Enough is enough.”

She also took a dim view of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision this week to start “re-opening” California for restaurants and business like gyms and hair salons.  

“I will say [his action] fuels the flame,” Reding said. “The last time we reopened, we saw additional COVID cases skyrocket. And right now we are experiencing a surge, and because projections [of a leveling off of cases]  — and that’s what they are, projections — that say our numbers are going to go down doesn’t mean that’s going to happen. We’re living in the moment.

“We really do want to make sure our communities are not opened prematurely because we saw what happened last time. In my area, and many areas, there’s ‘zero percent’ capacity. That means there’s no rooms for more patients to enter the hospital, or very little room. And we want to make sure that doesn’t happen. We have to be sure we can care for our patients.”

The “Day of Action” was also to launch a year of major contract negotiations that include some of the most profitable and mammoth corporate hospital chains in the United States, including HCA Healthcare, Sutter Health, and Dignity Health, which is owned by CommonSpirit.

Together, the contract negotiations cover nearly 45,000 registered nurses and respiratory therapists, aides, technicians, and other health care workers across the country.

“Many of the larger hospital chains are entering into negotiations with us, and we want to make sure we hit hard the safe staffing levels and putting patients over profits,” Reding said.