More than 50 nurses allege labor violations at Twin Cities Hospital
Nurses say understaffing endangers patient safety
Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton is facing new complaints this month from more than 50 registered nurses who say the hospital is violating California labor law, according to a press release from lawyers representing the nurses.
According to a lawsuit, the hospital, owned by Tenet Healthcare, has routinely violated the nurses’ workplace rights. The nurses allege the hospital is understaffed and that nurses are unable to take state-mandated breaks. They further complain that hospital supervisors instructed nurses to violate these mandatory patient nurse ratios by abandoning their patients to take breaks.
The complaints only represent one side of the story. Hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson replied to a request for comment saying: “We have and will continue to defend the hospital against the pending action. Twin Cities Community Hospital staffs based on patient need and in accordance with state laws. We are committed to providing safe, high-quality care to every patient.”
Nurses first began lodging complaints in 2010, according to attorneys representing the nurses. After years of attempts to resolve the complaints through arbitration, nine nurses engaged two law firms to represent them. The law firms Traber & Voorhies and Baltodano & Baltodano filed suit March 30, 2015.
“After the lawsuit was filed, the parties attempted to resolve their dispute informally from May 2015 to August 2016 through a mediation process…Once those efforts failed, we moved ahead and filed the individual claims in arbitration on Oct. 3, 2016,” says attorney Lauren Teukolsky with Baltodano & Baltodano,
Twin Cities nurses say they are primarily concerned about “patient safety.”
“We have all tried to use the chain of command with no response or change,” says one nurse in an memo provided by Teukolsky. “We have jeopardized patients’ lives and put our licenses on the line over and over. We are being placed in situations that are illegal and unsafe,” it says.
According to a 2015 report in Scientific American, widespread understaffing of nurses often creates an increased risk for patients. The report says that while media typically “attributes the chronically overburdened state of American hospitals to a national nursing shortage,” Linda Aiken, the director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, claims, “We have more nurses in the U.S. than we’ve ever had before.”
The situation can become grave. According to a 2014 Lancet study, “an increase in a nurse’s workload by one patient increased the likelihood of a patient in that hospital dying by 7 percent.”
California, however, was the first state in the union to legislate minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios back in 2004 and is one of the few states to regulate hospital staffing.
State ratios are determined on the basis of patient acuity, or how severe their case is. Frequently the ratio for more severe cases is one nurse per two or three patients at most, but rarely goes beyond one nurse per five patients. According to the Scientific American report, “Staffing ratios …appear to reduce the rate of readmissions, many of which are preventable and constitute a significant cost for hospitals.”
A court hearing is scheduled in Paso Robles on Oct. 25, Teukolsky says.
Are whistle blowing nurses in danger of losing their jobs?
“Several nurses have expressed that they are fearful of retaliation as a result of their participation in legal action against the hospital,” Teukolsky says. “So far as we know, no nurses have been terminated as a result of their participation.”
Apart from concerns about their patients’ welfare, some nurses have complained of long hours with no breaks. Writes one nurse, “How can I be a safe RN when I am not even able to take a meal break? I work 13+ hours most shifts. I am called every day to work extra shifts…I put my whole heart and should into my job…You are cutting costs at the cost of lives.”