Nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital demonstrate outside the hospital, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
(Patrick Riley/Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID South County

Watsonville nurses take to streets again, ask hospital to rescind staffing-ratio waiver

Braving rain and cold weather, more than a dozen nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital took to the streets again Wednesday, asking a new hospital management company to beef up staffing and reject potential measures that would allow more patients to be assigned to each nurse.

The demonstration was the latest in a string of public actions taken by the nurses in the last couple months as they have voiced concern over a staffing-ratio state waiver that allows hospitals to increase the workload of nurses. State officials have eased the waiver application process as hospitals try to keep pace with an influx of patients because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hospital recently received the waiver, said Roseann Farris, an ICU nurse and union representative. And though it hasn’t yet been put into action, she said, nurses want the hospital to commit to not using it.

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“They need to rescind that because that’s not safe,” Farris said. “And we want them to put our patients’ safety first as they make the decisions going into the future.”

Wednesday’s demonstration, unlike previous ones, came against the backdrop of another change in management. The hospital has seen several of those over the years, Farris said.

Last week, Los Angeles-based Halsen Healthcare was ousted and Prospect Medical Holdings, also based in Los Angeles, took over in a temporary management role, The Pajaronian reported. Halsen, according to the The Pajaronian, purchased the hospital in late 2019 but then sold the building and site to a company called Medical Properties Trust while retaining management rights.

Lookout attempts to learn more about that transaction Wednesday were unsuccessful. Hospital officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Wednesday’s rain-soaked protest seemed designed to send a message to the new management company about the waiver. It was unclear whether Halsen or the new management company obtained it.

“We have a change in management and we need to make sure that there’s a clear understanding of what we stand for — and that we’re not going anywhere,” Farris said. “We’ll continue to advocate until we see things done differently to benefit our patients and community.”

Implementation of the waiver would mean nurses in different departments would have to take on more patients than usual, Farris said. In critical care, for instance, where a nurse would usually have two patients at the most, or one if they’re extremely ill, they would now take on three with the waiver, she said.

In telemetry a nurse would typically take four patients, but under the waiver would be assigned six. In the medical/surgical department, the patient-to-nurse ratio would go from five patients per nurse to seven.

“The employer is putting the public health in danger, the patients’ health in danger and the nurses’ health in danger by keeping that waiver on the table and not staffing us appropriately,” said Quiché Rubalcava, an emergency department nurse and union representative.

The hospital has wrestled with understaffing for years, but those woes have come into even sharper focus during the pandemic, the nurses say.

Rubalcava pointed to a resolution unanimously adopted by the Watsonville City Council last week supporting safe staffing levels. “So the whole city is united behind this one idea,” Rubalcava said.

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