Wooing nurses no easy task
By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
At Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, the task of luring nurses has been particularly challenging.
The hospital had two CEOs leave in the past two years, its 300 nurses joined the Teamsters and about one in four of its nursing positions is vacant.
"There has not been the focus on some of the things that we needed to have, which are quickly being addressed," said Nita Kasan, the hospital's chief nursing officer. "We're focusing on professional growth and development and having the right level of leadership for staff."
While pay was one issue that prompted nurses to unionize, many of them said they were more concerned about insufficient staffing, having more say in hospital policy and getting some respect.
Kasan was brought in six months ago.
She started recruiting more orderlies and certified nursing assistants to support the nurses, relaxed the dress code and got nurses more involved in professional organizations. Kasan has started a Nurse of Excellence award to recognize those who do exceptional work.
Most of the nurses who leave the hospital do so within the first three months. So Kasan started interviewing new hires after 30, 60 and 90 days on the job to deal with concerns that might emerge.
Roxanne Harke, a Bayonet Point nurse who has been active in the union organizing effort and on the contract negotiation team, said that, in some ways, things are better than they were a year ago.
She thinks nurses have more say in hospital policy and can make sure that administrators are held accountable for following the rules.
But Harke, who works in the cardiac intensive care ward, said the nursing shortage was still making it difficult to provide good nursing care. Though the hospital was recently nationally recognized for good post-operative cardiac care, Harke said she saw complications that could have been prevented if there had been more nurses to look after patients.
"They're so stressed," Harke said of the nurses. "They're put into a unit and can't even do their jobs."
The union has created "unsafe situation forms" that nurses can fill out to document times when they're put on an assignment with inadequate staffing.
"Nobody can go to work day after day and leave knowing that you couldn't even look at this patient for a minute or two, or you couldn't talk to this one," Harke said. "That's so frustrating."
Kasan, who did not know about the forms until she was told by a reporter, said that was the kind of issue she's trying to address through new recruitment and retention initiatives.
"Any time there's an unsafe situation, we want to make sure there's a nursing supervisor to try to resolve it," Kasan said. "If I was told about an unsafe situation, you better believe I'd be responding. If that means you stop admissions, you do."
Though the union votes were made official nearly a year ago, the hospital and the union have failed to hammer out a contract, which they've been attempting to do since March.
Harke says she thought the hospital was intentionally delaying the approval of a contract. "I think their hope is that we'll all tire out and give up," Harke said.
"But even if we were working somewhere else, we wouldn't give up. We've got to stand up and take care of ourselves."
Hospital officials say that they're bargaining in good faith, and it's just a slow and tedious process.
"Obviously, it's not an easy process," said Kurt Conover, director of business development for the hospital, pointing out that less than a quarter of all union negotiations are settled in a year. "They meet on a regular basis to discuss all the issues."
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