Quick Take:

Nurses expect to demonstrate outside Watsonville Community Hospital at 2 p.m. Wednesday due to the possibility the hospital could apply for a waiver that allows more patients to nurses than currently allowed.

Watsonville nurses are urging their hospital not to apply for a waiver allowing more patients to be assigned to each nurse amid a surge in COVID-19 cases that is putting immense strain on California’s health care system.

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“What we’re trying to do is send the message to our management, and our hospital, not to issue a waiver of the ratio,” said Quiché Rubalcava, an emergency room nurse at Watsonville Community Hospital and a union representative. “That’s a decision they have on the table, and we want them to stand firm for patient safety — for nurse safety.”

On Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced hospitals may apply for an “expedited” waiver allowing one ICU nurse to manage up to three patients, instead of up to two, along with other staffing changes. The move clears a wide path for hospitals to receive the waivers, easing what had been a more stringent application process.

Nurses expect to demonstrate outside Watsonville Community Hospital between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Rubalcava. He said demonstrations were also planned at nearby Dominican Hospital; Hazel Hawkins, in Hollister; and Salinas Valley Memorial and Natividad Medical Center, in Salinas.

The demonstrations may coincide with the hospital’s first vaccination, also expected to take place Wednesday.

Management of the Watsonville hospital has not yet applied for a waiver, according to Rubalcava. But he said the emergency room is already dealing with staffing shortages, especially during the night shift.

“Our ICU is frequently full,” he said. “That’s kind of the new normal.”

Reached for comment, the CEO of hospital owner Halsen Healthcare, Dan Brothman, declined to respond in detail.

“I’m not going to comment one way or another on that,” Brothman said. “To be quite honest, I don’t know what we’re going to do with that. We’re very sensitive to trying to do everything in our power to take care of our patients, and we’re not going to comment on the waiver.”

The California Nurses Association is hosting a virtual press conference on the ratio waiver earlier Wednesday.

“This scheme will not ease the COVID-19 crisis facing California hospitals today, it will make it far worse,” said Zenei Cortez, president of the California Nurses Association, in a statement. “It will surely lead to more hospital acquired infections, and more nurse, other healthcare worker and patient deaths.”

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Follow Nick Ibarra on: Twitter. Ibarra has a track record of reporting that has shone light into almost every corner of Santa Cruz County. Raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he came to journalism from...