Local Nurses Demonstrate Dissatisfaction with Working Conditions

On Wednesday, USC-VHH nurses demonstrated in front of the hospital, citing staffing shortages as one of major stresses on personnel.
Photo by Mary O’KEEFE


Registered nurses (RNs) from USC Verdugo Hills Hospital were out in front of the medical facility on Wednesday to bring awareness of what they feel is unfair treatment by the hospital administration.

The nurses stood with signs asking for support and letting the community know they are “essential not expendable.” During the demonstration they received numerous “honks” of approval from passing motorists.

The nurses are part of the California Nurses Association. They are currently in negotiations that were postponed in early 2020 due to the pandemic.

“We [paused] negotiations two years ago in March 2020,” said Suzanne Miller, ICU RN and a member of the bargaining team.

All agreed that their issues, which included hospital staff shortages, would be put on hold as they “did their job and went to work” during COVID-19. But now the issues of recruitment and retention have not only become points of contention between the union and the hospital administration – for the nurses they have become safety issues.

“Nurses put their hearts and souls into [their work],” Miller said. However, she added, there are many nurses who are either leaving the profession, or in many cases leaving VHH, for jobs that are offering more.

“There are some hospitals that offer sign up bonuses,” she said. And many that are offering attractive wages.

But it is not only the wages that are attracting nurses away from USC-VHH; it is the working conditions at the hospital that are apparently turning them away.

“There are a lot of staffing concerns,” said Sandra Ocampo, labor representative. “There is a lot of under-staffing. Nurses leave right when they get here. They are attracted by the name ‘USC’ but when they show up there aren’t any nurses.”

Ocampo added that staffing has become an issue that affects retention.

“Oh, definitely,” agreed Ruby Carpo, an RN working in the Emergency Department/Room. “And it’s not just in the Emergency Room; it is the entire hospital. Our turnover rate is about 40%; that is since I got here in 2018-19. Nurses are not happy.”

Regarding the staffing issues, Carpo added that many times the administration asks nurses to work overtime, which she feels is not safe especially during this time of the pandemic.

“It is putting too much on our families, putting our families at risk and putting ourselves at risk. In the last 30 days at least 12 RNs have tested positive [for COVID],” she added. “We are in moral distress.”

That seemed to be the theme of Wednesday’s protest. Those in the medical fields have been tested to their limits during the pandemic. There is emotional and physical stresses like never before and, although everyone for this article said they continue to show up because it is what they are called to do, not having enough nurses has stretched their limits.

“We still show up to work,” Miller added, “but now the [administration] is raising [the cost of] our health premiums. This is not a time to do that.”

The nurses who were out on the sidewalk and in the drive-by caravan were emotional because, as they stated, they feel they are being ignored and disrespected by the administration.

To fill gaps in some areas ER nurses are working in the ICU, or charge nurses are working in the ER. Harris said that she is a nurse so she can work in other departments but when you specialize it is difficult to move from one area to another. She is an ER nurse who recently had two patients in the ICU and one in ER.

“We didn’t have any ICU nurses,” she said.

CVW reached out to USC-VHH administration and received the following statement:

“USC Verdugo Hills Hospital (USC-VHH) was notified of a potential demonstration from the California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents registered nurses at the hospital. This is not a strike. The hospital is fully staffed and the demonstration will not affect patient care.

“USC-VHH has upheld exemplary safety measures throughout the pandemic and maintains high marks across multiple quality and safety measures. The hospital also offers robust employee support services through its Care for the Caregiver program, and employee surveys consistently show high levels of employee satisfaction.

“We respect the right of our CNA members to demonstrate and recognize that they are an essential part of what makes our health care facility among the best in the country. The hospital looks forward to resuming discussions with CNA and is hopeful we can successfully negotiate a new contract.”