Nurses at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame joined with more than 23,000 other regional RN's from Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente hospitals Thursday during a one-day strike to protest healthcare cuts for nurses and their concern for patient advocacy rights.
“We staunchly refuse to be silenced on patient care protections,” said Sharon Tobin, a registered nurse at Mills-Peninsula in a statement. “As nurses, we speak up, and we insist on standards that safeguard our patients.”
The protests resulted from stalled negotiations between the Sacramento-based Sutter Health and registered nurses, represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA). Kaiser nurses also joined the strike.
Although CNA called for a single-day strike, the temporary contract Mills management signed with a company offering replacement staff requires five days of work for the substitute nurses. As a result, striking nurses will be unable to return to Mills-Peninsula until Tuesday, Sept. 27.
According to a statement from Mills-Peninsula, hospital officials “regret the union’s decision to take this action as negotiations are still under way.”
Hospital officials said they are attempting to provide nurses with competitive wages while simultaneously keeping health care costs down for patients. A full-time nurse at Mills-Peninsula earns an average of $140,000 each year in addition to a pension plan worth $84,000 per year.
Sutter Spokesperson Karen Garner said the nurses are making "a sensational statement" and not presenting the "full picture."
However, many elected officials appeared to stand behind the nurses. Representatives from Assemblymember Jerry Hill and Senator Leland Yee’s offices spoke at a rally in Burlingame in support of the nurses.
San Mateo County Community College Board member Richard Holober also spoke. "Business and health care really don’t belong in the same sentence,” Holober said. “So Sutter has to figure out what it’s all about.”
The nurses argued that Sutter management aims to cut their influence on behalf of patient care while cutting their health and retirement benefits.
“We’re the only ones that stand between the patient and the conglomerate,” Tobin said. “This is our calling in life; we need to be there when they need us.”
Mills-Peninsula intensive care nurse Janelle Morgan said it's clear the decisions in question are being handed down from a corporate level, and thanked all the nurses who came out to picket.
“I just can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see all your sunny faces,” she told the crowd. “All we can say at the bargaining table, you guys are saying right now.”
According to 2009 tax records, Sutter earned $3.7 billion in profit over the past six years, paying its CEO nearly $4 million, and its regional executive nearly $3 million.
Sutter's latest proposal cuts healthcare coverage, vacations, holiday pay, and education leave for all RNs who work less than 30 hours a week, the nurses said.
Christine Picard, a nurse at the Mills-Peninsula Family Birth Center, said part of the retirement health care presented by Sutter includes a portable package that suggests nurses who are native to another country return to their homeland upon retiring to receive healthcare outside of the United States. She said it was suggested as a positive option, although the nurses she works with plan on remaining in America.
“They’re really here as Americans now,” Picard said.
The highly attended protest brought nurses from hospitals throughout the Bay Area, including St. Mary’s Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. However, Sutter Health reported Thursday morning that at Eden Medical Center, Sutter Delta Medical Center, and Novato Community Hospital, up to 90 percent of nurses had returned to work.
Nurses walked off the job at 7 a.m. Thursday morning at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, Kaiser South San Francisco, Mills Health Center San Mateo, and Kaiser Redwood City.
Mills-Peninsula officials said the hospital would remain open during the strikes, with fully functional emergency services.