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Nurses in Long Beach take part in statewide strike

December 22, 2011 12:32:04 AM PST
Nurses at two Long Beach hospitals walked off the job on Thursday as part of a 24-hour strike taking place across California. The strike is to bring attention to what the nurses call unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios.

The strike began at 7 a.m. and is expected to go through Friday morning, but Long Beach Memorial Medical Center said it is locking out the striking nurses. They won't be allowed to return to work until Tuesday.

The hospital says patient care won't be affected by the strike since replacement nurses have been hired for the holiday weekend. Administrators say the lockout is necessary because the replacement nurses were contracted for five full days.

"It is not an intentional disciplinary action. It's purely a contractual relationship with the replacement nurses," said Dr. Susan Melvin of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

The strike affects about 2,000 nurses at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital. The nurses, represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, have been working without a contract since September.

Nurses say the hospital does not have enough staff to meet patient care needs, while allowing proper breaks for staff.

"It is paramount to us that we are able to take a break and get a little rest between the hectic day with the ability to know that our patients are being cared for," said Mary Bailey, a registered nurse.

Claudio Oneto, a registered nurse, said there were many times when she couldn't take a lunch break until after 4 p.m.

"I haven't had anything to eat all day because there's no nurse that can cover my critical patients," Oneto said.

Registered nurse Lolly Miller said she decided to cross the picket line.

"My management, my assistant unit managers, my charge nurses, they make sure we get our time off," she said.

The rising cost of health care is also a sticking point.

"The health care premiums are an issue because the hospital's costs have not gone up for the PPO, yet they're increasing the premium costs to all the employees," said Margie Keenan, a registered nurse.

Hospital spokesman Myra Gregorian said she believes the health care cost increase is fair.

"When you're talking about full premium PPO with so many options, what physician you can go to, and the average increase is $4.76, we stand behind that being a very generous offer," Gregorian said.

About 4,000 nurses in the San Francisco Bay area are also striking over contract issues.

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