By Melissa Pinion-Whitt, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 06/13/2012 11:29:27 AM PDT
COLTON – Carrying signs that said “Some Cuts Don’t Heal,” hundreds of nurses picketed in front of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center on Wednesday, seeking higher pay and more staff at the trauma center.
Members of the California Nurses Association have been trying to reach an agreement with San Bernardino County for more than three months, but the county hasn’t agreed to several demands made by the nurses.
One of those is compensation to make up for having to contribute to the county’s pension system, a move the county plans to enact with all of its employee groups.
Nurses at Arrowhead earn about 20 percent less than those at surrounding hospitals, union officials said.
“If we don’t get that solved, we’re going to have trouble recruiting and retaining people in the county,” said Rhonda Watts, an intensive care unit nurse who has worked for the county 25 years.
With the pension contribution, nurses will lose an additional $300 to $600 a month.
The majority of nurses coming to work at the hospital are newly graduated, and many stay a short time before moving on to other medical facilities, Watts said.
Employees said experienced nurses are needed at Arrowhead because of its status as a trauma and burn center. They said the hospital operated at an $85-million profit in 2011, so the county can afford their pay requests.
But county officials disagree with the union’s claims, arguing that it doesn’t have the means to pay them more.
“It’s just one of the tough realities we are facing right now until we get through this economic downturn,” said county spokesman David Wert.
Wert said revenue surpluses are used on one-time costs, such as medical equipment, rather than salaries, which are ongoing costs.
He also said the county received 2,400 applications for nursing positions in 2011, and the turnover rate for Arrowhead is 7.5 percent. That’s 25 percent less than the state and 85 percent less than the national average.
“Nurses are beating down our doors to get here and when they get here they’re not leaving,” Wert said.
The union said it is especially interested in having dedicated rapid-response nurses – personnel who can come to a patient’s bedside in the case of strokes, heart failure, infections or other emergencies.
“There’s overwhelming evidence out there that this saves lives,” Watts said.
Arrowhead has a rapid-response nurse, but the employee is assigned to a unit and leaves that unit short-handed in order to perform those duties.
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