Doctors at Riverside hospital urge nurses not to strike as county's ICUs reach 100% capacity

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A union representing nurses at three Southern California hospitals is scheduled to begin a 10-day strike starting Christmas Eve over allegations of unfair labor practices. At the same time, a group of doctors at one of those hospitals sent out a memo Tuesday, urging nurses to reconsider the timing of the strike.

"We felt it was important that our nurses knew how much we needed them during this time," said Dr. Steven Kim at Riverside Community Hospital. Kim said it's unusual for doctors and hospital staff to intervene in a labor dispute between the nurses' union and management but said this labor dispute comes at an all-time "critical point" of the COVID-19 surge.

"It is unusual, but it shows the point that this is an unusual time," said Dr. Kim. "It's a critical time, and we felt so strongly that without our nursing partners, patients' lives would be at risk undoubtedly."

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A nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Eyewitness News that the situation at Barstow Community Hospital is dire, with several nurses sick with COVID-19 and several others physically and emotionally drained from the pandemic.


Dr. Kim is chairman of the emergency department at Riverside Community Hospital. He said he and other doctors do not work for HCA HealthCare, which is the corporation currently in negotiations with the union.

A document obtained by Eyewitness News shows that if replacement nurses are required, they would be paid $110 per hour, and over $1,500 per shift. But Dr. Kim is unsure whether there would even be enough nurses available to cover the shortage if nurses at Riverside Community Hospital go on strike.

"Estimates that I've heard from hospital leadership is we'll be lucky to get half the nurses we'll need to be full service, and that makes me very concerned."

A spokesperson for SEIU Local 121RN, the union representing the nurses, provided the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"The Nurses and Licensed Medical Professionals who make up the Bargaining Team passed proposals months ago on pandemic safety and safe staffing levels, and had been raising these serious concerns before the pandemic and before negotiations began. In fact, it's gotten worse during the pandemic, yet HCA has used the pandemic as an excuse. These are not new issues, yet HCA has not remedied them."

The statement continues:

"The timing of this strike, like so many of the issues the Nurses are addressing at the bargaining table, is manufactured by the employer. It is unconscionable that during this pandemic, our patients and the employees who provide patient care have not been prioritized to maintain a healthy community."

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With many intensive care units already at maximum capacity in the Inland Empire, doctors are warning that an increase in cases after Christmas and New Year's could be catastrophic.


The strike is scheduled to take place starting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. In addition to Riverside Community Hospital, the strike would affect Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, there continues to be pushback against newly imposed state restrictions. In San Bernardino County, a 129-page lawsuit was filed in the California Supreme Court on Tuesday night, naming Gov. Gavin Newsom as a defendant.

The lawsuit targets the modified stay-home order, reading in part: "While the County understands the threat that the COVID-19 Pandemic poses to its residents, Governor Newsom does not have the power...to order all Californians to stay inside their homes unless they leave to partake in an activity which the Respondents ordained as 'essential.'"

In Riverside County, members of the Board of Supervisors questioned the state's restrictions on outdoor dining.

"We don't disagree that our numbers are bad," said Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington. "But what they actually achieved in saying no outdoor dining, is people saying screw that! In my neck of the woods, all of the restaurants are open, indoors and outdoors."

Riverside County 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries questioned the state guidelines, saying he hasn't seen any evidence that the outdoor dining is a significant source of COVID-19 spread.

"How do we ask a businessman or businesswoman to go bankrupt - not because science says you're going to save lives, but because the state wants you to?" Jeffries said. "It's really frustrating."

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Bay Area nurses are expressing concern over an ICU training plan announced By Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, which would give nurses a 2-day crash course before sending them to work in intensive care units.

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