The California Nurses Association, which has been negotiating a contract with the hospital since June 2012, organized the event with Tracy nurses. About 30 people, including Sutter Tracy nurses and their families, demonstrated along Tracy Boulevard.
Dotty Nygard is a registered nurse in the Sutter Tracy emergency room with 17 years of experience.
“There’s an incredibly important issue that’s come up at the bargaining table,” Nygard said. “Administration has come up with a plan to redesign staffing up on our (medical-surgical) unit by shifting nurses off the floor and into other departments to fill vacancies.”
Part of that plan, she said, is to turn double-occupancy rooms for patients who need to stay in the hospital into rooms with only one bed.
Sutter Tracy CEO David M. Thompson, in an interview the next morning, said the hospital is creating single rooms to make a nicer experience for patients and their families.
“The trend nationally has been fewer patients in beds,” Thompson said. “We have a population that has large families, and it makes it easier for them to be with their loved ones.”
Candy Meservy, a registered nurse, works in the hospital’s surgery department as a pre-op and patient-care nurse. Even she isn’t sure what the realignment of rooms will mean in the long term.
“It’s a semantic thing,” Meservy said. “Is it a loss of beds? Eventually you have a nursing staff geared to this now-scaled-down amount of beds.”
The Sutter Tracy CEO said the hospital can easily wheel a bed back into a single room to care for more patients.
“It has nothing to do with staffing. Nothing,” Thompson said. “Staffing is not dependent on how many beds are in the room. Staffing is dependent on how many patients are in the room. So it doesn’t matter if there is a person in one bed and there is an empty bed in the room.”
Meservy, who has been a nurse for 33 years, also worries about a trend of hospital administrators relying upon short-term contract nurses, called travelers, to bridge gaps in nurse staffing.
“Our policies, procedures and things we do may be a little different than somewhere else,” Meservy said. “So that can increase your error rate just because they are not as familiar. And the familiarity makes it much better and safer.”
Thompson said the hospital has four nursing positions open right now and uses travelers only in short-term situations.
“The reason we use travelers is that we’re actively looking for permanent staff,” Thompson said. “In fact, there were interviews as recent as the last two weeks which included staff from the department on the interview panel. They elected that with those open positions, they would rather go and hire three people from the outside rather than people from inside the organization.”
Nygard believes the hospital has eliminated 10 positions and worries about further cuts and changes.
“What we want to provide our community is that dedicated care,” the ER nurse said. “Not by jeopardizing whether or not we have enough beds or nurses to take care of the community.”
Thompson — who didn’t know the nurses were planning a demonstration until an offhand comment by Tracy City Councilwoman Nancy Young during the Tuesday, Nov. 19, council meeting — would not say whether he thought the candlelight vigil was a strategic move by the union.
“We are in active bargaining,” Thompson said. “I was unaware that there was going to be any sort of a vigil at the hospital. So I think one can draw their own conclusions as to whether these concerns are real or this is a bargaining tactic. My focus is on providing safe care for the patients and that we have enough staff.”
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.