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Nurses plan strike over swine flu conditions at hospitals

October 19, 2009 | 12:59 pm

More than 16,000 registered nurses are locked in a contract dispute with officials at 37 Catholic hospitals statewide and plan to strike Oct. 30 out of concern that the hospitals’ lax safety standards put them at risk of catching H1N1 flu.

The California Nurses Assn., which is in bargaining talks with San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West hospitals, announced the strike this morning. Local hospitals expected to be affected include California Hospital Medical Center, St. Vincent Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Community Hospital of San Bernardino and St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino.

Nurses also plan to picket two Catholic Healthcare West hospitals in Nevada. Nurses have been wrangling with the hospitals over pay, healthcare benefits, and adopting state guidelines for responding to H1N1 flu that were published earlier this year by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The guidelines include supplying nurses with N95 protective masks and isolating infected patients.

Nurses have been demanding more protection from the H1N1 flu all summer, an association spokesman said, but became increasingly concerned after a nurse died in July. Karen Ann Hays, 51, a cancer nurse at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento, died July 17 of a severe respiratory infection, pneumonia and H1N1. Hospital officials could not confirm whether Hays, a triathlete and marathon runner, became ill at work.

The hospital is among those where nurses plan to strike. “We have a global pandemic of swine flu and we need the hospitals to do a better job preparing,” association spokesman Chuck Idelson said. “If the hospitals don’t do a better job, they become incubators.”

A California Healthcare West spokesman did not return phone calls this morning. Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center officials released a statement this morning reassuring patients that they will have enough backup staff to remain open should nurses strike. Hospital officials called the union’s salary and benefit demands “unrealistic.”

“Given the current economic environment and the challenges CHW faces, the CNA’s demands, if agreed to, would add to the ballooning cost of providing care and threaten our ability to meet our community’s needs,” the statement said.

“Catholic Healthcare West is prepared to continue to bargain in good faith with the CNA bargaining team, but needs to do so within a realistic and constructive framework.” Union and hospital officials were meeting this morning in the Bay Area town of Emeryville, Idelson said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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