Emergency Nurses Stage Sickout at King Hospital

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emergency room nurses have staged a sickout at Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center to protest chronic understaffing at the county-run hospital, which on some shifts has had nurses responsible for as many as 15 patients each, according to Jim Gutierrez, a spokesman for Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the nurses.

The wildcat sickout began Monday and involved all of the emergency room nurses on the day and evening shifts, said Cheri Allmond, head nurse in the emergency room. The night-shift nurses showed up for work as scheduled Monday and were expected to report Tuesday night, Allmond said.

The hospital has kept the emergency room open by transferring nurses from other departments, hiring nurses from contract agencies and assigning nursing supervisors to help with patient care, said Patricia Fullenweider, spokeswoman for the hospital at 12021 S. Wilmington Ave. in Watts. Allmond said that care has not been affected, and that so far patients have received treatment without unusual delay.

Union and hospital officials are working together to persuade the nurses to return to work, Gutierrez said. A meeting was being arranged for today between the nurses and hospital administrators to try to reach agreement on staffing levels.

"Our goal is to resolve their problems and get them back to work immediately," Gutierrez said.

Several of the nurses involved in the job action attended the county supervisors meeting Tuesday to acquaint the board with working conditions at the hospital. Nurses said the issue was insufficient staffing to adequately care for patients, not money.

Fullenweider acknowledged that the emergency room has been hard pressed in recent months. She said the curtailment of trauma services at private hospitals has brought more patients to Martin Luther King's emergency room without a corresponding increase in medical staffing.

A general nursing shortage at the hospital led administrators several months ago to close two adult-patient units totaling about 60 beds. That, Fullenweider said, has made it more difficult to move patients out of the emergency room and into rooms. These patients end up adding to the responsibilities of emergency room nurses.

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