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L.A. Hospital Nurses Say There Isn’t Enough Staff To Adequately Care For Patients

Nurses wearing red union face masks rally in front of PIH Good Samaritan Hospital. Some wear red shirts, others wear blue scrubs.
Nurses who are members of the California Nurses Association at PIH Good Samaritan Hospital in Downtown L.A. held a rally to demand safe staffing levels and stronger workplace protections.
(Jackie Fortier/LAist)
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About 40 nurses stood in front of PIH Good Samaritan hospital in downtown Los Angeles Thursday, wearing red union face masks and waving plastic clappers, hoping to call attention to what they say are unsafe working conditions.

Alex Cuevas, chief California Nurses Association representative at the hospital, says nurses are assigned too many patients to care for at once.

“They are draining the staff, and that’s why we have so many nurses leaving us, because they are just so tired,” he said.

In the past four months, he says about 80 nurses at Good Samaritan have quit.

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“Yesterday, I had a [catheterization] lab nurse, crying, literally in tears saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not a strong person like you guys are,’ and she ended up leaving.”

Cuevas teared up as he described the strain he and his coworkers feel.

“They are draining us so much,” he said. “There is literally no empathy whatsoever from this management.”

The pressure to move patients out of the emergency room overburdens other hospital units that are already taking care of too many patients, said Emily Whitfield, a cardiac critical care nurse.

“It’s this ethical dilemma … do you keep them in the E.R. or do you bring them to my unit where we're also not going to be able to provide the care? It’s not right that the hospital allows that to continue,” she said.

Nurses say long-term solutions are needed, rather than relying on travel nurses or military help to plug staffing gaps during COVID surges.

The staffing crunch is also exacerbated by nurses testing positive with COVID-19, but Cuevas said the hospital should have planned for another surge with more hiring.

Meanwhile, hospital administrators are weighing whether to ask COVID-infected but asymptomatic staff members to work, as permitted under new guidance issued by the state health department last weekend.

The controversial new guidance was dispersed to California’s hospitals and nursing homes, and allows workers who are infected but have no symptoms — as well as those who have been exposed — to immediately return to work without isolation or additional testing. The new guidelines remain in effect until Feb. 1.

The guidelines say hospitals should exhaust all other options first, and positive health workers should only be assigned to COVID-19 patients. The workers are required to wear N95 masks.

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It’s unclear how many L.A. hospitals are asking asymptomatic health workers to continue care.

The short term future is bleak for beleaguered hospital staff. More than 4,100 patients are currently hospitalized in L.A. County with COVID-19. State models predict that by Jan. 20, the number will surpass 8,300 — more than double what we’re seeing now.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.