KAISER PERMANENTE: Nurses Strike, Hospitals Prepare For Crunch
About 7,500 Kaiser Permanente nurses at 54 Kaiser facilities in Northern California began a two-day strike at 7 a.m. this morning, AP/Sacramento Bee reports (1/28). The move "follow[ed] a flurry of unsuccessful attempts Tuesday to call off the two-day walkout," Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.State Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) called both sides together late yesterday evening in an ill-fated attempt to avoid the walkout (Lauer/Kleinberg, 1/28). "Hospitals and health care officials throughout Northern California braced themselves yesterday for" the strike, San Francisco Chronicle reports. Hospital officials are "scrambling more frantically than they did during several similar nurses' strikes last year" because the "walkout ... comes at the height of the worst flu season in more than a decade." The HMO "took many of the same steps yesterday as it did before" the last strikes, including "reschedul[ing] routine appointments, [flying] in nurses from Southern California and assign[ing] doctors to tasks normally handled by nurses." But "Kaiser also took some more drastic measures," including "shutting down two of its medical offices" -- the Mountain View and Milpitas clinics -- and "direct[ing] patients to their Santa Clara hospital." In addition, the "California Department of Health Services sent inspectors into the field, stationing them at Kaiser facilities and other hospitals to keep an eye on health care standards during the strike" (DeBare, 1/28).
"Almeda and Contra Costa county officials declared local health emergencies Tuesday," the Contra Costa Times reports. The move allows county health officials to "pressure hospitals to take a range of steps, including mandatory overtime, postponing elective surgeries, and putting their own disaster plans into effect." Under the declaration, "hospitals must confer with county emergency officials before they can send patients elsewhere." According to Contra Costa Health Director William Walker, while "hospitals technically aren't legally bound to obey county health officials' orders, 'they have always cooperated'" (Spears/Appleby, 1/28). "Almeda County officials told their hospitals to hire extra staff, keep clinics open longer than usual, and discharge patients as quickly as possible to handle the expected overflow from Kaiser." San Francisco Chronicle reports that "San Francisco health officials ordered hospitals in the city to open their doors to critical-care patients, no matter how full they were" (1/28). In Sacramento County, "medical personnel are again operating an emergency ambulance diversion system, sending 911 patients only to those hospitals capable of handling them." University of California-Davis Medical Center has enlisted "[d]ozens of temporary helpers" from its maintenance staff to "assum[e] the more menial tasks normally assigned to nurses," including "making beds, running errands and answering telephones" during the strike period. Frank Loge, the medical center's director, said the "decision to bring in non-medical workers came Monday, after the hospital declared a 'code green alert,' signaling a potential internal disaster as the result of overcrowding" (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 1/28) "Sonoma County hospitals have a few more patients than normal this flu season, but health officials said there is no crisis," Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports (1/28).