Tri-City Nurses raise ER concerns

Tri-City Nurses raise ER concerns
Brenda Ham has been with the hospital for 32 years and says there are 20 percent less nurses in the ER today. Photo by Ellen Wright

OCEANSIDE — Some registered nurses at Tri-City Medical Center held a press conference Monday to voice their concerns about the conditions in the emergency room at the hospital.

According to Steve Mathews, a representative for the California Nurses Association, patients occasionally spend up to three days in the emergency room, which is well past the state mandated maximum of 23 hours.

“We’re not only saying that we have issues, we have answers to what needs to happen here,” said Mathews.

Brenda Ham, a nurse who has been at the hospital for 32 years, said dangerous altercations have happened while behavioral patients waited outside of the ER.

“There’s been some dangerous events happening because they have security guards watching confused or alcoholic patients,” said Ham.

The nurses said they were concerned that security guards without proper training sometimes watch over patients, instead of certified nursing assistants.

Another recommendation the nurses gave was opening up an overflow room on the third floor of the hospital.

Ham and other nurses held up their documented complaint letters, which they said they have been sending hospital management for six months. The nurses are unable to share the documents because they have detailed patient information and would lose their jobs if they did so, under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act.

David Bennett, senior vice president and chief of marketing at Tri-City, said the nurses haven’t voiced concerns to senior management.

“We’re not going to respond to this kind of stuff, neither the staff nor the union has brought any of these issues to the attention of senior management,” said Bennett.

The nurses had specific recommendations for improvements, including opening up a new Behavioral Health Unit for patients who pose a threat to themselves and others.

As it stands right now, patients with behavioral issues are watched by security guards outside of the emergency room while waiting for an open bed, according to Mathews.

Ham said the problems began when the float pool was closed a year ago.

A float pool is a group of nurses that are accessible by multiple units in the hospital, so if someone is unavailable for work, a unit won’t go under-staffed because they’ll be able to use nurses from the float pool.

Dave Overton, president of Oceanside Fire Association, said he’s seen the workload of nurses increase drastically.

Ambulance drivers’ wait time to get a patient into a bed has more than doubled, going from 10 to 15 minutes, to 26 minutes to an hour, according to Overton.

“That directly affects our service to the community,” said Overton.

Jane Mitchell, Vice President of Medental International and a candidate for the Tri-City Healthcare District Board, believes the cutback on nursing hours is a way to save money. Elections will be held this November, where voters will elect to fill five seats among the 11 candidates.

Of the 65 nurses in the ER, about seven were at the press conference.

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