Nurses at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, the biggest hospital in Ventura County, are set to go on a 10-day strike starting Dec. 24.
The nurses’ union, Service Employees International Union Local 121 RN, called the strike Dec. 14, four days after a vote of the union members gave the bargaining team the authority to call a strike and decide how long it would last. Union officials say they will continue negotiating with hospital management to try to prevent the scheduled strike.
In addition to Los Robles, the planned strike includes two other Southern California hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare: West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley and Riverside Community Hospital.
The union said it gave the hospitals 10 days notice so management could have time to bring in temporary replacement staff. In a Dec. 9 press statement, Los Robles said it had the beds and capacity to care for its patients even in a strike and during a pandemic, and that it has protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of patients, employees and the community.
Staff members at the three hospitals said the hospitals were not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result suffered from high infection rates among staff. Even before the pandemic, the nurses said there were staffing shortages at the hospitals, and that during the pandemic there has been aggressive rationing of personal protective equipment, including dirty and previously used equipment.
Nurses in the union believe patients who came into the hospital without COVID-19 contracted the virus while they were there. The nurses say there was insufficient testing of both patients and staff, and the hospitals relied on COVID-19 tests that were less expensive and less accurate than the industry standard.
“Recently, two support staff tested positive and a third who’d been working alongside them was also quarantined,” Kami Miller, a nurse at Los Robles, said in statement released by the union. “I told management that I was within six feet of one of the positive employees who wasn’t wearing a mask at the time, and yet the hospital didn’t test me. There was another recent exposure in Labor and Delivery, but none of the colleagues who’d worked with that employee were tested. My son’s teachers are tested every week. It just doesn’t make sense that we don’t have a vigorous testing program here.”
The SEIU said it is willing to continue negotiations during the 10-day advance period, and HCA is honoring previously scheduled negotiation dates. SEIU 121 RN is also engaging a federal mediator in the process.