Lawsuit Alleges That Los Angeles County Violates State Nurse Staffing Rules
Service Employees International Union Local 660 on Monday filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County alleging that the county, on average, has 26% less than the number of nurses necessary to comply with state nurse-staffing ratios, the Los Angeles Times reports (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 10/26).
State regulations that took effect Jan. 1 require hospitals to set staffing levels at the beginning of a nursing shift and maintain the ratio throughout the shift, including during nurses' breaks. Union officials have been encouraging nurses to refuse patient assignments if they exceed the cap (California Healthline, 10/6).
SEIU Local 660 in the last two months has distributed leaflets explaining the state's nurse-staffing requirements and promising to defend nurses who inform their superiors of unsafe situations. About 20 nurses in the union have been suspended for refusing to take more patients than the ratios allow. Union representatives have said they plan to protest those suspensions.
County officials "acknowledge they are not in full compliance with the ratios" but have said nurse-staffing levels are not jeopardizing the health of patients, according to the Times. County officials say 4,555 nurses are necessary to satisfy the regulations. The county has 3,361 nurses at five hospitals. For example, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services officials have found that Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center must fill more than 400 positions and Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center must fill more than 200 positions to meet nurse-staffing ratios. According to the Times, county DHS officials "doubt they can substantially increase the nursing ranks anytime soon."
California Healthcare Association spokesperson Jan Emerson said that about 85% of the hospitals throughout the state have 15% fewer nurses than needed to fully meet the ratio rules.
County DHS spokesperson John Wallace said Los Angeles County meets nurse-staffing requirements "the vast majority of the time" by contracting private nurses to address shortages and closing beds when nurses are not available.
County DHS Director Thomas Garthwaite called employing temporary nurses a "stop-gap measure" (Los Angeles Times, 10/26). He added, "If it was unsafe today, we would take immediate action" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/26).