Watsonville Community Hospital nurses demonstrate on Dec. 30.
Watsonville Community Hospital nurses demonstrate against a waiver to nurse-to-patient ratio requirements earlier this month. Another demonstration is set for Wednesday, Dec. 30.
(Nick Ibarra / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID South County

‘We’re overwhelmed’: Watsonville nurses to demonstrate for second time this month

“We’re overwhelmed, and what we want is a better solution for those gaps in our staffing,” one nurse says. Hospital managers say they’re focused on treating patients and are declining to publicly respond to the unionized nurses’ claims.

Nurses plan to demonstrate at Watsonville Community Hospital for the second time this month, insisting the hospital’s management has done little to address what they claim are unsafe working conditions amid a continued surge in COVID-19 patients.

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“We just don’t have enough nurses to handle the volume and acuity of patients that we’re seeing now,” said Quiché Rubalcava, an emergency department nurse and union representative. “We’re overwhelmed, and what we want is a better solution for those gaps in our staffing.”

Roseann Farris, an ICU nurse and union representative, said working conditions inside the hospital are deteriorating, prompting the demonstration set for Wednesday afternoon.

Nurses are facing disciplinary threats, she said, and they also recently learned the hospital applied for a staffing-ratio waiver.

The state waiver allows more patients to be assigned to each nurse. Earlier this month, it set off a war of words between the California Nurses Association and hospital industry representatives after state officials eased the waiver application process as hospitals grappled with an influx of patients.

Dan Brothman — CEO of Halsen Healthcare, the company that owns the Watsonville Community Hospital — declined to comment on whether it has applied for a ratio waiver. He also declined to comment on the hospital’s staffing of nurses, in general.

“I’m not going to talk about anything related to the union. It’s inappropriate,” Brothman said. “My total focus is on taking care of patients, vaccinating employees, and now vaccinating first responders.”

Farris, the ICU nurse, said nurses are being forced to work overtime and are “being told that if they don’t they’ll be considered insubordinate. What that means is we can be disciplined if we work beyond what’s safe and our level of exhaustion.”

Rubalcava said nurses are calling on hospital management for assurances on two fronts. “We want a guarantee that they’re not going to institute the waiver on the ratios, that’s No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, we want to see a concrete plan to improve staffing for our community.”

The demonstration is scheduled 3:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Instead of spacing themselves out on the sidewalk in front of the hospital, as dozens of nurses did on Dec. 16, nurses plan to drive around the hospital in a car caravan.

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