Central Coast registered nurses assembled at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo on Thursday, holding a press conference to highlight their concerns over nurse shortages due to COVID-19.
They gathered in response to a New Times interview with 35th District Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) in which he explained his reasoning for signing a letter, along with other California state representatives, to state Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly in support of waiving nurse-patient ratios.
California state representatives that also signed the letter include:
- 42nd District Assemblymember, Chad Mayes
- 12th District Assemblymember, Heath Flora
- 36th District Assemblymember, Tome Lackey
The letter, that was sent on August 30, reads, “Over the past several weeks, as hospitalizations rise as a result of the Delta variant’s spread, hospitals throughout the state have consistently faced a staffing shortage.”
Using Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in the City of San Luis Obispo as an example, the letter suggests that its 53 staff vacancies are a threat to patients’ needs because half of those vacancies are nurses.
"Unsafe, excessive patient assignments sharply reduce the care and time nurses can devote to each patient," said Sierra Vista RN Amber Weihl.
She says the nursing shortage comes with a strenuous workload that is "not healthy for patients or nurses."
"Many of the current vacancies are a direct result of hospital administration’s failure to plan in advance for the COVID-19 crisis, including planning to staff up from day one," Weihl said in a press release prior to the conference.
The California Department of Public Health has advocated for hospitals to find ways to relieve staffing before getting a waiver.
Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham issued a statement in response Thursday, saying, "California is the only state in the country with a statewide nurse staffing ratio. Whatever its merits in normal times, complying with the ratio requirement during a COVID-19 surge — in the middle of a nationwide nursing shortage — forces hospitals to turn away patients in need of an ICU bed. We cannot afford regulations that make it difficult for hospitals to care for sick members of our community” he said. “To his credit, Governor Newsom waived the ratio during the 2020 summer and winter surges in order to allow hospitals to accept more sick patients. It would have made all the sense in the world to do the same thing during last month's Delta surge."
Tenet Health, which operates Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, also released the following statement:
“The labor union that represents our Registered Nurses, held a press conference today near Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.
Our hospitals remain fully operational and our staff’s focus, as always, is on providing exceptional quality patient care.
While we value all of our nurses who are represented, we are disappointed that the union is taking this action. The demands of COVID-19 have placed a great strain on all California hospitals and we remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients and staff. We continue to follow the guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to staffing and also continue to work with our resources to supplement our core staff as needed.
We take immense pride in the extraordinary professionalism and dedication our physicians, nurses and other staff have demonstrated every day in caring for our COVID-19 patients. This work has not been easy, but they have risen to the challenge during this unprecedented pandemic.”