Los Angeles County Not Complying With Nurse Staffing Rules, Union Says
A union representing nurses on Wednesday issued a "white paper" to members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors calling for the county to hire more nurses and criticizing the county for failing to meet nurse staffing ratios that took effect Jan. 1, the Los Angeles Daily News reports (Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News, 7/14). About 25 nurses staged a "brief sit-in" at the county offices demanding that the ratios be enforced, the Los Angeles Times reports (Fox, Los Angeles Times, 7/15).
The new nurse staffing regulations state that nurses should not care for more than eight patients at a time. The regulations call for one nurse per five patients in medical-surgical units by 2005, as well as one nurse per four patients in specialty care and telemetry units and one nurse per three patients in step-down units by 2008. In addition, the law states that licensed vocational nurses can comprise no more than 50% of the licensed nurses assigned to patient care and that only registered nurses can care for critical trauma patients. The rules also require at least one registered nurse to serve as a triage nurse in emergency departments (California Healthline, 6/15).
Los Angeles County operates five hospitals with 3,350 nurses. To meet staffing ratios, the county needs to hire 1,204 more nurses (Los Angeles Times, 7/15). Service Employees International Union Local 660, the union representing the nurses, has been in negotiations with Los Angeles County since October for a new nurse contract. SEIU representatives called for centralizing the county's nurse recruitment program rather than allowing hospitals to conduct their own recruiting. The union also has asked that nurses be used as recruiters and that "in-house training" be expanded, the Daily News reports (Los Angeles Daily News, 7/14).
County Department of Health Services spokesperson John Wallace said the department has begun to centralize nurse recruiting and has hired a director of nursing to oversee recruitment and the contract rate for "traveling nurses," according to the Daily News (Los Angeles Daily News, 7/14). "Our goal is to be compliant, but unfortunately, because of the nursing shortage, we're not able to be," Wallace said (Los Angeles Times, 7/15). He added, "There is probably not a hospital in California that is 100% compliant with (the law) 100% of the time." SEIU Local 660 spokesperson Mark Tarnawsky said, "The nurses feel like they are going to work to watch people die." He also said salaries of nurses employed by Los Angeles County hospitals are $15,000 to $30,000 less than industry averages and that the county will not increase them (Los Angeles Daily News, 7/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.