Local nurses return to work Tuesday after five-day lockout

Following a statewide strike last week, local nurses will return to work Tuesday, amidst the investigation of the death of a patient at an Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campus in Oakland over the weekend.

In anticipation of the Thursday union strike, the hospital hired replacement nurses for five days, during which a patient was given a lethal dosage of medication by a replacement nurse at the Alta Bates hospital on Hawthorne Avenue, according to the Bay City News.

Members from the union California Nurses Association blamed the death on the decision by Sutter Health — of which Alta Bates is an affiliate — to lock them out of hospital facilities after the one-day strike.

“On Friday morning, a nurse with 24 years of experience, who works on that unit, reported to work and was told that she was locked out because she participated in the strike,” said Efren Garza, a registered nurse at Alta Bates and a member of the state union. “She had provided care to this patient, and had she been able to return to work, then this would have been prevented.”

Garza added that the hospital’s “failure to maintain safe patient care” directly caused the patient’s death.

Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp said the hospital was required to uphold a contract with replacement nurses.

“In order to find the caliber of nurse in the quantity we needed, we worked with an agency that would give us a five-day contract (for replacement nurses),” she said.

Kemp described Saturday’s incident as a “very tragic accident,” adding that the hospital began its own internal investigations immediately.

“Every caregiver in our medical center is highly qualified,” a Monday Alta Bates statement reads. “Contract nurses are part of every hospital every day. These nurses are registered, highly trained and qualified, and they undergo extensive screening and orientation before they come to work here or at any hospital.”

Ralph Montano, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, confirmed that the department had launched an investigation at Alta Bates regarding a patient death, but he could not provide details.

The California Hospital Association, which represents health care systems, criticized the nurses union for the strike and its response to the death.

“It is inappropriate and irresponsible for the California Nurses Association labor union to exploit this tragedy to further their union agenda,” said C. Duane Dauner, president of the association, in a statement. “It also is unfortunate that the nurses union is questioning the qualifications of other nurses providing patient care.”

In a 2010 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers found that nurses’ strikes increase in-hospital mortality by 19.4 percent for patients admitted during a strike. The results were based on a dataset collected on nurses’ strikes in New York between 1984 and 2004.