Los Angeles County nurses walked out on strike today, crippling services at public hospitals that serve thousands of poor patients and provide emergency care throughout the county.
The talks broke down shortly after 3 a.m. when negotiators for Local 660 of the Service Employes International Union, AFL-CIO, turned down a county offer of a 14.5% increase over a two-year period or 20% over three years. Nurses' representatives asked for a 20% hike over two years.
The impact of the 5 a.m. walkout was immediate, especially at the county's largest hospital, County-USC Medical Center, the sprawling facility east of downtown Los Angeles.
All 50 outpatient clinics, which serve about 900 patients a day, were closed as 50% to 55% of the 400 day-shift nurses failed to report to work. Administrators juggled those nurses who reported to work from one ward to another and discharged as many patients as possible.
One key area, the medical admissions office where patients are sent after emergency care, was so crammed at 9:15 a.m. with patients that it was impossible to walk through it. Many of the ailing people were waiting for admission for intensive care for ailments such as heart attacks and gastrointestinal bleeding.
All Wards Covered
Richard Cordova, hospital administrator, said, "Right now, we do not have any wards without nurses." But Dr. Mark Segal, spokesman for the Joint Council of Residents and Interns, a labor organization that represents the physicians, said "the wards are severely handicapped."
At Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles, almost 60% of the nurses struck, affecting care in the wards and in the clincs.
At Olive View Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley, 65% of the day-shift nurses struck, according to Administrator Dennis Bagley.
Outpatient clinics were closed, but Bagley said, "We're doing OK."
Meanwhile, no new talks were scheduled, although Elliot Marcus, a county labor negotiator, said he is contacting Jim Tatum, a mediator provided by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, to get the talks going again.
Sharon Grimpe, general manager of Local 660, said "the nurses did not want to strike. They care very much for the patients. But the county led us to this point."