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Nurses to hold strike at Modesto, Turlock hospitals, citing patient safety issues

Doctors Medical Center received a warning from the City of Modesto for watering on the wrong day after nurses picketing outside said the sprinklers were turned on multiple times in an effort to get them to disperse.
Doctors Medical Center received a warning from the City of Modesto for watering on the wrong day after nurses picketing outside said the sprinklers were turned on multiple times in an effort to get them to disperse.

A one-day strike involving registered nurses at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock is scheduled for Friday.

The walkout will affect hospitals in California, Arizona and Florida owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. About 5,400 registered nurses work at those facilities.

In a statement Wednesday, Doctors Medical Center said patient care at the Florida Avenue center won’t be affected by the scheduled union action. The union gave the legally required advanced notice of the strike, and arrangements are made to staff the hospital with replacement nurses and other caregivers.

The 24-hour work stoppage is set to begin at 7 a.m. Friday, with nurses returning to their duties at 7 a.m. Saturday.

“We have been negotiating in good faith with union representatives over the last few months in an effort to reach a new contract,” the hospital’s statement said. “We are disappointed that the union is taking this approach. We have made progress toward a new contract and will continue to negotiate in hopes of reaching a successful resolution.”

The nurses represented by the California Nurses Association have been in contract negotiations with Tenet for a year.

Registered nurse Shiloh Garcia said the nurses are hoping to resolve the labor issues, but the two sides were not close to agreement at midweek. “It looks like the strike is going to occur,” said Garcia, the interim chief nursing representative at Doctors.

According to the nurses association, a significant issue in the negotiations is under-staffing, which forces nursing staff to miss breaks and work extra hours. The union charged that Tenet hospitals are increasingly using “on call” nurses in operating rooms and other departments and, in some cases, nurses are called back to work within hours of ending their regular shifts.

A CNA press release said the company paid almost $8 million in penalty compensation to nurses who were too busy for meal breaks at eight hospitals in California. The nurses missed a total of 140,000 meal breaks at those hospitals from 2016 to 2018.

Research shows that nurses need rest and meal breaks to avoid fatigue and provide safe, adequate care for patients, the union said.

Friday’s intended strike will test relations between Tenet’s hospital management in Modesto and sign-toting nurses. In May, Doctors received a notice of violation from the city of Modesto after outdoor sprinklers came on during a union demonstration outside the medical center.

Nurses who were picketing said the sprinklers were turned on multiple times during the three-hour demonstration in an effort to get them to disperse. A city water crew came out and issued the warning to Doctors for violating Modesto’s outdoor watering rules.

The hospital’s address ends in an odd number, so the facility was not allowed to run sprinklers during the Tuesday demonstration last May. Officials at Doctors did not comment following the incident with the sprinklers.

Friday is a watering day for Doctors and others with odd-number addresses. Union members hope to stay dry at a rally set for noon Friday at the Modesto hospital.

“We would hope it would not happen,” Garcia said. “We are prepared in case that happens.”

Doctors on Wednesday again declined to comment on the matter. “We value our relationship with all our employees and we are committed to resolving the contract negotiations,” the hospital’s statement said.

Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.
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