Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/12/2012 11:35:41 AM PDT
Nurses at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton said patient care will likely decline if the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors imposes cuts to their pensions and the hospital continues expanding its use of registry nurses.
Some nurses at the county-run trauma center are already talking about quitting because they are convinced the county is poised to impose concessions that will force them to pay the 7 percent the county now pays into their pensions, said Rhonda Watts, a nurse of 26 years who works in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
“We always knew that when we came to the county we were getting less pay,” Watts said. “Now, if you ask nurses to pay that (7 percent) pickup, it makes our compensation that much less.”
Watts was one of several nurses who told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday they were unhappy with the trajectory of ongoing labor negotiations between the county and their union, the California Nurses Association, and the county’s plan to expand nurse registry services.
The board on Tuesday approved an agreement to increase the county’s 31 contracts for nurse registry services by $3 million, from $8.3 million to $11.3 million, through Dec. 31.
The amount of money the county has doled out for nurse registry services has increased seven-fold in the last three years.
In January 2009, the board approved its first 10 nurse registry contracts for $1.5 million. Two months later, the board approved an additional 11 contracts for the same amount. In June 2009, the board approved 10 more contracts, bringing the total number of nurse registry contracts with the county to 31.
In March, Arrowhead administrators returned to the board with more proposals. The board approved amendments to nine of the 31 nurse registry contracts, increasing their amounts from $1.5 million to $8.3 million so the hospital could pay arrears owed to five vendors and continue providing registry coverage through December, according to a staff report prepared for the board.
The contracts are in place to ensure the hospital complies with the state-mandated nursing ratios at all times and to ensure there are enough registered nurses available for unexpected influxes of patients, said Jorge Valencia, hospital spokesman.
Zorina Hernandez, another ICU nurse at the hospital, said registry nurses are a Band-Aid approach to addressing staffing shortages, and that the county should be more concerned about retaining and recruiting more experienced nurses.
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