California ICU nurses sound alarm on staffing waivers to increase nurse-to-patient ratios

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California intensive care unit nurses on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle are sounding the alarm over plans to add more to their patient load.
Tinny Abogado is a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles in the step-down unit which cares for patients just out of the ICU.

During her shifts, she cares for three patients at a time, but that may soon change. Last week, the Department of Public Health began granting expedited waivers to hospitals to increase the number of patients ICU nurses can treat at one time.

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"Under the new expedited waiver process, the hospital can now give me another step-down patient. This is so, so risky. I am already working so hard just to keep my three patients safe," Abogado said.

The California Nurses Association says waivers violate safe staffing standards that will cause more suffering and death for patients and healthcare workers.

"We've seen hospital units closed, nurses laid off, nurses called off shifts, work place conditions so dangerous that scores of nurses have left," said Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and CNA member.

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The organization is accusing hospitals of putting its profits above staffing.

"Everyone knew, COVID was going to re-surge in the winter and they had almost a year to prepare. They have not done what it takes build a strong staff pool but instead what is best for their bottom line," said Abogado.
In response, the California Hospital Association called the accusations false and irresponsible citing illness, retirement, family needs and more for the shortage of ICU nurses. It also said the lack of ICU nurses has caused hospitals to delay patient care.

"Without this temporary staffing flexibility, very sick patients will wait on gurneys in the emergency department until a specially trained ICU nurse is available," said Carmela Coy, president/CEO of the California Hospital Association.

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The organization said the waiver would only apply to ICU nurses under a temporary variance.

But nurses say they are already at their breaking point and want law makers to take action.

"There needs to be a mandate on the hospitals to cancel elective surgeries... require adequate PPE, proper infection control measure, and stop rationing care, stop rationing staff, stop rationing resources and stop supplies," said Stephanie Roberson, Government Relations Director with the California Nurses Association.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is in the process of hiring more than 800 healthcare workers to deploy in ICUs across the region.
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