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Nurses Charge Cutbacks Result in Shoddy Care

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Declaring that they are being squeezed out of jobs, nurses at a national summit here Sunday warned that nationwide health care is increasingly being entrusted to lower-paid and lesser-trained personnel.

“I’ve seen them replace nurses with unlicensed personnel who, after five to 12 days of training, do everything from housekeeping, phlebotomies, to bed making,” said Deborah Bayer, a nurse at an Oakland hospital.

The staffing situation with fewer nurses has become so severe, said Kim Kelley of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, that health care is suffering.

“Bathing, grooming, incontinence care and turning are not done when staff is short,” Kelley said. “Call bells aren’t answered for 20, 30, 60 minutes or not at all.”

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During the daylong session at UCI, part of a 22-month study initiated by Congress in 1993, speakers representing the nursing profession presented studies and gave testimony to officials from the U.S. Department of Health Care Services that cast a dim outlook on the health care system in California.

However, representatives of the hospital industry say that California hospitals, still hard hit by the recession, are forced to cut staffs to stem financial losses and remain competitive.

A member of the California Assn. of Health Facilities said hospitals are already under government mandate to ensure that enough staffing exists.

“The California Assn. of Health facilities feel adequate staffing incentives are currently in existence, therefore making additional staff mandates in nursing facilities unnecessary,” said Alice Dahlen, a member of the association.

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But more than 100 of the nurses at an afternoon session asserted that hospital administrators are mainly determined to boost profit despite the economic hardships.

“The health care industry is the most profitable industry in the U.S.,” said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Assn., based in San Francisco. “Looking at these figures, we feel that these layoffs are unnecessary.”

According to speakers, medical reports say that 75% of hospitals in the country are profitable. The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development found that in 1993, 540 California hospitals netted about $1.5 billion.

The federal officials listening questioned administrators and nurses, collected data and studies and heard some explicit stories about patients.

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For example, a 911 dispatcher told of an emergency call from a patient at a local hospital. The hemorrhaging patient phoned because no one at the hospital was responding to his bell calls.

Another case involved a 94-year-old woman who never received a bath during her 15-day hospitalization.

The experts who testified maintained that assessing such factors as the minimum number of medical attention hours a patient must receive would help ensure that just enough nurses are on a hospital’s staff. Others said that a patient’s individual needs are unique and that it’s impossible to adopt a formula for the number of nurses that are needed.

The federal nursing committee expects to present the final study to Congress by July.

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