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Central Coast nurses advocate for 'safe staffing' amid nurse shortage

Angel Russell
Registered nurses demonstrate in San Luis Obispo.

As hospitals throughout the state report they are struggling with nurse shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic, registered nurses held a press conference Thursday at Sierra Vista Hospital in San Luis Obispo saying there isn’t a nurse shortage, just a shortage of nurses willing to work under what they are calling “unfair and overworked conditions.”

A group of Central Coast nurses waved signs at traffic in front of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center to urge local hospitals to listen to staff to come up with agreeable solutions to ease the workload. 

“We are seeing nurses getting really tired of the strain,” said Heather Baker, nurse at Twin Cities Community Hospital.

Baker said since the start of the pandemic, hospitals have been placing more work and more patients on nurses — bringing some nurses to the breaking point. 

"They will be the first ones to pick up an extra shift and say ‘I can’t do it anymore. It doesn’t matter how much you pay me, I cannot pick up an extra shift. I am tired,'" Baker said.

California is the only state to require by law a specific number of nurses to patients in every hospital. It requires one nurse for every two patients in intensive care and one nurse for every four patients in emergency rooms. But due to the pandemic, hospitals are able to apply for a waiver to allow nurses to care for more patients.

Under the waiver, ICU nurses can care for three people and emergency nurses can oversee six patients.

Joe Domingos, nurse at Marian Regional in Santa Maria, said politicians and hospital administration who support the waivers, don’t understand the workload nurses already face. 

“Come to the bedside, walk with me for a day, come wipe some butts. Come clean up some messes and see what it’s like before you go and try to make deicisons that affect what I do," Domingos said.

In response to the nurse’s conference, Alan Iftiniuk, President and CEO of French Hospital Medical Center with Dignity Health said in a statement to KCBX News, “We have worked diligently to care for our community and have maintained the appropriate staffing ratios throughout the pandemic. We value our dedicated nurses, and appreciate their ongoing commitment to care."

Tenant Health Central Coast also released a statement to KCBX News in response to the nurse's conference:
“The labor union that represents our Registered Nurses, held a press conference today near Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. Our hospitals remain fully operational and our staff’s focus, as always, is on providing exceptional quality patient care. While we value all of our nurses who are represented, we are disappointed that the union is taking this action. The demands of COVID-19 have placed a great strain on all California hospitals and we remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients and staff. We continue to follow the guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to staffing and also continue to work with our resources to supplement our core staff as needed. We take immense pride in the extraordinary professionalism and dedication our physicians, nurses and other staff have demonstrated every day in caring for our COVID-19 patients. This work has not been easy, but they have risen to the challenge during this unprecedented pandemic.”
But the nurses at the event said all local hospitals need to come to the table with nurses to find solutions, or the nurse shortage will only continue to get worse.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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