St. John's nurses on strike.

Nurses at Providence Saint John’s Health Center held a one-day strike Tuesday to protest understaffing and below-market wages, issues they say five months of contract negotiations have failed to address.

Striking nurses gathered in front of the hospital at 2121 Santa Monica Blvd. at 7 a.m. and held a rally at 11:30 a.m. as passing cars, firetrucks and Big Blue Buses honked in support. More than 300 nurses went to the picket line in shifts to avoid disruptions to patient care, and Saint John’s also engaged replacement nurses during the strike.

Providence has cut Saint John’s lift and transportation teams, who lift patients and transport them between areas of the hospital, nurses said. They also said they are required to work in care units they are inexperienced in to temporarily cover staffing gaps.

“If there is a critical care patient who needs to be moved … there may not be a team to move them,” said Sudie Cunnane, a registered nurse who has worked at Saint John’s for 24 years. “They may be hooked up to heavy equipment and so one nurse can’t move the patient alone. So now maybe two nurses have to leave their patients, or that patient faces a long delay in getting care.”

Nurses said the loss of the lift and transportation teams and “floating” nurses in different units creates an unsafe environment for patients.

A Saint John’s spokesperson said a recent evaluation by The Joint Commission, an independent organization that certifies and accredits hospitals, found no safety concerns at the hospital.

The contract for the 600 nurses at Saint John’s expired on July 25, and California Nurses Association representatives said they have met with the hospital’s attorneys about 40 times since then.

Lizabeth Baker-Wade, a labor and delivery nurse who has worked at the hospital for 20 years, said Providence offered a 1.25 percent annual raise and is looking to cut paid time off and increase the premiums nurses pay on their benefits. She said Saint John’s pays nurses lower wages than nearby hospitals like UCLA Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente.

“We can’t recruit and retain quality nurses at this hospital because they can’t afford to live anywhere near here,” Baker-Wade said. “We’ve made concessions and bargained in good faith. Will (a strike) have to happen again? That’s quite possible.”

The hospital has had difficulty finding nurses who can get to Saint John’s in 30 minutes or less while on call because few can afford to live in or around Santa Monica, said registered nurse Tiffany Venable.

“We’ve come down twice on our original wage proposal, and they told us they’re not going to move anymore on wages,” Venable said.

Providence Saint John’s said in a statement that the California Nurses Association has made little effort to negotiate a new contract that provides nurses with fair wages and benefits.

“Saint John’s recognizes and respects the rights of nurses to strike,” a spokesperson said. “The hospital’s goal is to reach a compromise that meets the needs of our nurses, the hospital and our community.”


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