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Nursing Strike Highlights Staffing Levels Can Impact Patient Safety

Nurses perform many essential functions at health care facilities, including running tests, administering drugs, and communicating with patients. Accordingly, we are closely monitoring the situation at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC).

Approximately 1,300 registered nurses recently completed a four-day strike. It was the second nursing strike at the hospital in the last three months. The nurses are seeking to improve staffing levels at the hospital and obtain higher wages. With regard to patient safety, the nurses claim that several LAMC units, particularly the pediatric intensive care unit, lacked adequate staffing, which forces nurses to skip breaks and lunches.

“Within the last year nurses have reported to Kaiser executives over 500 incidences of unsafe staffing at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center. We are concerned for our patients,” said Tessie Costales, a critical care RN who has worked 30 years at the hospital.

The nurses held a seven-day strike in March, but have been unable to reach a contract with the hospital. “The issue is about patient care. It’s not about the wages. It’s about the conditions,” said Debra Grabelle, spokeswoman for the California Nurses Association. “Nurses are striking to call on Kaiser to invest appropriately and invest the money back into the hospital and care that they promised they were going to deliver.”

As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Blog, inadequate staffing increases the risk of medical errors, including medication mistakes and preventable hospital-acquired infections. One study found that for every extra patient assigned to a nurse, the incidence of catheter infection increased by one infection per 1,000 patients. Conversely, another study found that hospital units with higher nurse-to-patient staffing ratios had significantly lower rates of central line IV bloodstream infections, pneumonia associated with ventilators, deaths within 30 days, and bedsores.

The use of temporary workers during strikes can also put patients at risk. Temporary workers in emergency departments are twice as likely to make medication errors that harm patients, according to a study of nearly 24,000 drug mix-ups at 592 U.S. hospitals.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a medication error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.