Editor's note: This story was updated to include a statement from Kaiser Permanente.
Nurses working at nearly two dozen Kaiser Permanente locations are planning to strike amid concern that the health system giant has not done enough to ease the burdens foisted upon them by the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 21,000 nurses and nurse practitioners who work for Kaiser Permanente voted almost unanimously yesterday to go on a two-day strike November 21 and 22 (and at least at one location, November 23, as well).
Cathy Kennedy, the president of the California Nurses Association (CNA), said in a press release that “we always want to give our patients the best care, but Kaiser refuses to provide the resources we need to do our jobs safely.”
Kennedy, a nurse in the neonatal ICU unit at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, adds that “we are chronically short-staffed, which means patients are waiting longer for care. This is unacceptable and unconscionable when Kaiser made more than $14 billion during the first two years of the pandemic.”
The strike is being organized by the CNA and National Nurses United (NNU). They plan to set up picket lines outside of 21 Kaiser Permanente facilities on November 21 and 22. The NNU said in a press release that it plans to picket outside Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC) on those days and November 23, as well.
In a statement, Kaiser Permanente told Fierce Healthcare that it has been bargaining with CNA “for months, and have been making steady progress.” The health system said that in a session on Thursday it proposed annual raises for nurses at a higher rate than it’s been able to offer for “decades.”
Kaiser said it has contingency plans in place to avoid care disruptions in the event of a strike.
“It is disappointing to receive a strike notice from CNA for a 2-day strike November 21 and 22, as this tactic is counterproductive and distracts everyone from reaching agreement,” Kaiser Permanente said. “Further, our nurses would prefer to be at the side of our patients as we once again manage through a time when flu and RSV illness are affecting so many patients and COVID-19 is still very real and sickening thousands every day.”
When going on strike, nurses and other clinicians do face a conundrum about the potential to disrupt patient care. The CNA press release notes that “nurses always give at least 10 days of advance notice to the hospital to allow for alternative plans to be made for patient care.”
Nurses have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by Incredible Health, which describes itself as a “healthcare career marketplace,” found that 34% of nurses planned on leaving the profession this year, with 44% citing high-stress conditions and burnout as the reasons for wanting to quit.
The Kaiser Permanente nurses and nurse practitioners want:
- Guidelines about minimum staffing.
- More training and hiring of nurses to combat the shortage caused by the pandemic.
- Protection aimed against Kaiser’s subcontracting and outsourcing nursing work.
- Assurances that nurses are assigned to work in units where they’ve established competency, and not be reassigned to units where they don’t usually work.
- Assurances that home health nurses are given reasonable work schedules so that they have enough time to see their patients.
The nurses plan to assemble each day at 7 a.m. and picket until 5 p.m.
Diane McClure, a nurse in the post-anesthesia care unit at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, one of the locations where picketing will occur, said in the CNA press release that “nurses are missing their breaks and lunches every single day due to short staffing. We need our legally provided breaks so that we are rested and can provide the highest level of care.”
Michelle Vo, a nurse in the adult primary care unit at Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, another planned picketing location, said that “without enough nurses in both inpatient and outpatient settings, patients are left for hours in the emergency room or receive inadequate and untimely access to outpatient care. Our patients deserve better from a corporation that made more than $24 billion over the past five years.”
In the NNU press release, Bryan Telfort, a nurse in the intensive care unit at LAMC, said that “we’ve been asked to do more with less throughout the pandemic. We need on-the-job protections requiring minimum qualifications and competencies for the unit. Anything less puts patient safety at risk.”