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UCLA, UCSF hospital nurses voice complaints about overcrowding, staffing shortages

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
UCLA nurses affiliated with the California Nurses Assn./National Nurses United union held a rally Wednesday outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles to express their concerns and urge hospital officials to improve their practices.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Nurses at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus say patients are doubled up in rooms or lie in gurneys in hallways.

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Nurses at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus went public this week with complaints about overcrowding and staffing issues that they say have led to eroding conditions for patients.

At the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, patients sometimes lie in hallways on gurneys for days at a time, said Dianne Sposito, an emergency room nurse at the hospital.

“There’s lots of downsides to this,” Sposito said in an interview. “How do you give proper care in a hallway?”

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UCLA nurses affiliated with the California Nurses Assn./National Nurses United union held a rally Wednesday outside the Los Angeles hospital to express their concerns and urge hospital officials to improve their practices.

Sposito also said patients with serious conditions have waited several hours to receive care. Those include people enduring chest pains, transplant patients with complications, people experiencing excruciating pain not being able to get morphine and people needing mental health treatment not being seen right away.

She said that on a typical day the emergency room fills up so quickly that by 11 a.m., people are forced to wait in tents near the entrance.

“I feel sorry for those people that are waiting in that emergency room for a long time,” Sposito said. “They don’t have sinks and bathrooms like they would in their room, you know what I mean? They’re stuck in a hallway with a few curtains around them … they put a curtain between the patients.”

She said that though hospitals are not facing COVID-19 surges like before, the conditions have made it difficult to isolate patients who have tested positive for the virus away from the hallways and waiting areas. Sposito said sometimes they are unable to isolate COVID-19 patients at all due to a lack of available rooms.

Hospital staff members also complained about the use of so-called shadow beds — a second bed added to rooms that are supposed to have one patient. Staffers have raised concerns about patient privacy with these rooms as well as the safety issues of having to navigate the limited space amid the beds and the medical equipment needed.

Although the hospital has helped increase security and some staffing, Sposito said it’s been a challenge every day to manage patients’ needs.

A spokesperson for UCLA Health said in an email statement that hospital officials “value the commitment and input of nurses” and are working to address topics raised by them. The statement said the organization has submitted a request to the California Department of Public Health asking to continue having more than one patient in some of the rooms if needed to provide care.

“The safety of our patients, nurses and all staff is always UCLA Health’s overriding priority,” the statement said. “UCLA Health carefully tracks bed availability, patient discharges, planned procedures, supplies, and other data around the clock to inform strategic decisions about staffing, use of overflow areas and use of a limited number of shared patient rooms when necessary to accommodate high volumes of patients seeking care.”

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At UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus, nurse Kate Garzero said “it’s like playing ‘Tetris’” when she’s working in a room with two patients when it is supposed to have one. Garzero said she and other staffers feel like “task machines” constantly running to get things done.

Nurses at the San Francisco hospital have said their concerns about understaffing are going unheard and the personal pressure to come in and help is overwhelming.

“I’m laying out my scrubs and I’m thinking about my day the next day and I already know that there’s a possibility that we’re going to be two nurses short,” Garzero said.

A spokesperson for UC San Francisco said in an email statement that “UCSF complies with California Department of Public Health requirements, including staffing ratios and the use of space.”

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