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Nurses Returning to Work After Strike

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Business was slowly returning to normal at county medical facilities in the Southeast area Wednesday after a judge ordered striking nurses to return to work.

The temporary restraining order, signed by Superior Court Judge William Huss late Tuesday, forced the county’s 4,500 nurses to abandon their strike in the interest of public safety--only 18 hours after it began.

At most area clinics and hospitals, the majority seemed to comply.

“I have mixed emotions about the order,” said Talleis Johnson, a nurse at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey who had spent Tuesday on the picket line but was back at work on Wednesday. “I can understand (the judge) sending us back to work; I don’t think he had a choice.”

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The nurses went on strike after negotiations broke down on their contract, which expired Sept. 30. While the union is seeking a 10% wage increase, the county has offered only a 5.5% raise now, with 7% more next year.

By far the largest county facility in the Southeast area, the 735-bed rehabilitation hospital had reported 60% absenteeism on Tuesday.

It was the site of the area’s only picket line. About 245 nurses and clerical personnel belonging to Local 660 had marched around the hospital’s entrances and exits blowing whistles and carrying signs, one reading: “you R a SCAB!”

As a result of the disruptions, hospital administrators said the elective surgery and admissions departments were closed. The rehabilitation facility, which does not have an emergency room nor provide acute care, treats stabilized patients who have such conditions as head and spinal cord injuries.

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On Wednesday, however, the situation had almost returned to normal. “The majority of nurses are back and are wrapping up their command post,” said Susan Miranda, director of public relations.

That development seemed to be mirrored, to varying degrees, at other county facilities.

The Pico Rivera Health Center, a walk-in clinic that reported 50% absenteeism on Tuesday and had been forced to divert patients to other clinics, reported only two nurses missing on Wednesday. Both had called in sick.

And at the Whittier Health Center, seven of the 18 nurses scheduled to work Wednesday had not shown up, compared to nine absences on Tuesday.

“We’re hoping to be able to pull this out,” said Dorina Rocha, the facility’s public health nurse supervisor. “There are still some services that are not running normally, but it hasn’t affected us dramatically.”

At the county health center in Compton, patients waited up to three hours Tuesday for care.

“I’ve been here since 7:30 a.m.,” said Anna Torresillas of Paramount, who was still waiting at 10:30 a.m. to take a tuberculosis test. “I feel frustrated, but what can I do?”

Maria Gomez, 18, was told that her baby’s doctor appointment had to be rescheduled. “I don’t feel good about it because my baby is sick,” said Gomez, whose 5-month-old daughter, Norma, had an undiagnosed eye ailment.

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And at the Pico Rivera clinic, the normally jam-packed waiting room was nearly deserted. “Most of our patients knew beforehand about the strike and called in before coming,” said Lucille Sanchez, the facility’s supervisor.

The strike almost bypassed Long Beach. The city’s Coastal County Health Center reported only two of its 15 nurses missing on Tuesday, both of whom had returned the next day. Neither Memorial Medical Center nor St. Mary Medical Center, both private hospitals, reported significant increases in the number of patients referred by county facilities during the strike.

St. Francis Medical Center, a private facility in Lynwood, reported a 20% increase in patient load, mostly people in ambulances diverted from county hospitals. The increase was still holding on Wednesday, though hospital officials said it was not creating any serious problems.

“We have an experienced staff,” said Linda Woo, a hospital spokeswoman. “It hasn’t affected our ability to function.”

Some nurses, meanwhile, were expressing a feeling of helplessness. “I feel like I was made to (go back),” said Annie Patricio.

This article was reported by Times staff writers David Haldane, Lorna Fernandes and David A. Avila. It was written by Haldane.

County Health Facilities in the Southeast and Long Beach Areas

Hospital:

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Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, 7601 E. Imperial Highway, Downey. A rehabilitation hospital with 735 beds, outpatient clinic and spinal injury center. No emergency room or acute care facilities.

Outpatient Clinics:

Compton--300 E. Rosecrans Ave.

Bellflower--10050 Flower St.

Hawaiian Gardens--22310 Wardham Ave.

Huntington Park--6538 Miles Ave.

Long Beach--1333 Chestnut Ave.

Norwalk--12360 E. Firestone Blvd.

Pico Rivera--6336 S. Passons Blvd.

Whittier--7643 S. Painter Ave.


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