Hearing Scheduled To Determine Whether Schwarzenegger, Officials Are in Contempt Over Nurse Staffing Ratios
California Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher on Tuesday scheduled an Aug. 17 hearing to determine whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and two aides should be held in contempt of court after the state reissued emergency regulations to prevent lower nurse staffing ratios from taking effect, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 7/20).
In March, Holzer Hersher issued an injunction barring the state from trying to block the ratios. However, Schwarzenegger administration officials issued two emergency orders to block the ratios since the injunction.
Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe and Department of Health Services Director Sandra Shewry also were named in the case (Berthelsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/20).
Pam Reynolds, a spokesperson for the court, said Holzer Hersher was researching possible penalties if Schwarzenegger or the other officials are found to be in contempt (Chorneau, Associated Press, 7/19). It is not clear whether the officials would be required to appear in court themselves, but penalties could include fines or imprisonment, according to the Chronicle.
HHSA spokesperson Sabrina Demayo Lockhart said, "The only reason the emergency regulation was refiled was to preserve our appeals right" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/20). She added, "We understand the judge's ruling stands. We are not in any way trying to violate her order" (AP/New York Times, 7/20).
Schwarzenegger spokesperson Julie Soderlund said, "By her action today, the judge is blocking our right to appeal so that we can maintain access to health care for Californians" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/20).
Charles Idelson, spokesperson for the California Nurses Association, said, "There is nothing in the law that anyone is aware of that says [the Schwarzenegger administration has] the authority to ignore a court order on the basis of their desire to appeal" (AP/New York Times, 7/20).
Rose Ann DeMaro, executive director of CNA, said, "This is a sitting officer of the state of California defying the courts. It may be historically unprecedented."
In related news, a June 15 memo to nurses at Sutter Davis Hospital by Director of Nursing Operations Mary Doherty said DHS officials had unofficially told hospital administrators that DHS is not adequately staffed to ensure compliance with new staff ratios.
The memo was intended to "clear up confusion about the new regulations' taking effect," the Chronicle reports.
"I have surveyed the other hospitals in our region, and all of us are struggling with the same issues, no one has managed to remain in total compliance with the ratios at all times," the memo states.
"DHS has visited some of those hospitals but no fines have been issued. Unofficially we have been told that unless the staffing is outside the ratios for a number of shifts in a row or is part of the daily staffing pattern, they do not have the resources to police hospitals for this issue," according to the memo.
HHSA spokesperson Lockhart said, "DHS directs all of its staff to enforce all regulations, including nurse-to-patient ratios, and hospitals are expected to comply with these requirements at all times" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/20).