Coronavirus

Local Nurses Call for Safe Patient Ratios Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

Demonstration follows state guidance allowing higher nurse-to-patient ratios

Linda Kerr and Michael Hudson, join fellow nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital Wednesday in a noisy demonstration to voice their concerns about unsafe staffing. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

A group of about 30 nurses at Watsonville Community Hospital held a demonstration Wednesday asking that management keep nurse-to-patient ratios at their present level.

The demonstration came five days after the California Department of Public Health sent a memo to the state’s general acute care hospitals, allowing them to increase the ratios in response to the influx of patients from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to nurse Roseann Farris, the memo would allow hospitals to increase each nurse’s patient load by two, which she said is a concern in a time when many patients need critical care.

“Our ratios are the cornerstone and the heart of safe patient care,” Farris said. “If you disregard that, especially in regard to how sick these patients are, it’s going to be very dangerous.”

Farris says that Watsonville Community Hospital management has not yet said whether it plans to increase the ratios. Dan Brothman, CEO of Halsen Healthcare, which owns the hospital, declined to comment.

Farris said Wednesday’s action was a way to publicize the issue.

“We are tired from working this pandemic for the last nine months,” she said. “But we are always going to come out to the streets and so whatever we have to do to make sure that our patients are safe and our community is safe.”

In a prepared statement, Dominican Hospital said that “the health and wellness of both our patients and our employees is our number one priority.”

“Dominican Hospital does not plan on exercising any change to our nursing ratios unless we are in crisis mode and have exhausted all other options.” the statement said.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) in a statement accused hospitals of “exploiting the pandemic” as a way to roll back nurse-patient ratios and cut costs.

CNA President Zenei Cortez says the increases will lead to more hospital-acquired infections, and to more nurse, healthcare worker and patient deaths. 

“Larger patient assignments sharply cut the time nurses can provide individualized patient care, properly monitor a patient’s condition, and increase the likelihood of mistakes, as studies have documented for years,” Cortez stated in a press release. “In a pandemic, that’s an open invitation to increase the risk of spreading the virus to other patients and other staff.”

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