Dozens of nurses gathered outside Watsonville Community Hospital on Monday afternoon for a publicity picket, saying they want a contract that will allow them to attract and retain nurses, thus improving patient safety and care.
“We want to advocate for a just and safe contract that will promote safe staffing, that will allow us to advocate for our patients and also be competitive with other local hospitals,” said registered nurse Roseann Faris.
The nurses, represented by California Nurses Association, have been in contract negotiations since July, asking for a salary increase and little to no increase in health benefits, among other things.
They are also asking that the hospital bring back part-time positions, which were eliminated in July as a cost-saving measure.
The hospital, in its second year of local ownership, is still recovering financially after years of corporate mismanagement. According to newly hired CEO Stephen Gray, the institution is losing money on a monthly basis, with a total of $6.8 million in losses so far this calendar year.
To give the nurses a salary increase, and to bring back part-time positions, there would have to be reductions elsewhere, Gray said.
This includes possible increases to nurses’ health benefits costs, for which they pay less than 3%, with the state average hovering at 20%, he said.
Worse, increases to general healthcare will mean a $2.5 million increase in the hospital’s costs next year, Gray said.
“We’re doing better than before; the team has done an amazing job of improving the financial picture,” Gray said. “But it’s still definitely running at a loss. We just need to figure out a solution that works for the nurses and for the hospital’s financial stability.”
In addition, Gray said that the hospital is looking to reduce overtime and double-time costs.
But Faris said overtime pay is one of the “safeguards” built into nurses’ contracts that assures fair compensation, prevents mandatory overtime shifts and serves as an incentive to administrators to adequately staff the hospital.
“They’re talking about stuff they feel that they can get rid of to save money, however what we’re saying is that they’re staffing in a way that’s not safe for the nurses and the patients,” she said.