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Nurses at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) in Grass Valley, Calif., are conducting a public awareness campaign this week to alert community members to persistently unsafe conditions at the medical facility, announced California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU). They are asking residents to help them win improvements in care by contacting hospital Chief Nursing Officer Lori Katterhagen to demand immediate action to address nurses’ concerns. 

“At the root of all the problems is management’s failure to fulfill the commitment they made last fall to hire more RNs and ancillary staff,” said Carrie St. Thomas, an RN in the telemetry unit. “Instead of staffing up, they rely on unsafe practices such as requiring staff to work without meal and rest breaks, unsafe patient assignments, and excessive use of overtime scheduling. They also expect RNs to take on the workload of nurses’ aides and at the same time, attend to our patient’s medical needs. We cannot do this in a safe manner.”  

Since July 30—and continuing until August 5—RNs are handing out flyers throughout Grass Valley that describe the unsafe working conditions at the facility and state: “To help RNs save lives, join us & demand that Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) provide safe staffing now! Call: Lori Katterhagen, SNMH Chief Nursing Officer (530) 274-6165.” 

The RNs urge management to invest in nursing and ancillary staff to resolve the following issues:

  • Management has reduced the number of nurses’ aides. These aides perform critical functions to support RNs and patient care, including guaranteeing that rooms are cleaned and sanitized, which is vital for infection control. RNs are expected to perform the work of both RNs and aides, as well as maintain the same high nursing care standards without any decrease in their regular workload. 
  • RNs are often working 13- to 16-hour days without receiving legally mandated meal and rest breaks, which has led to near misses and adverse events for both patients and nurses due to prolonged physical and mental stress.
  • Management relies on excessive overtime scheduling. RNs are often pressured to work overtime, including shifts up to 24 hours in length, and up to 16 or more days in a row. 
  • Despite high turnover and ongoing vacancies, management has refused to hire more staff. 

SNMH is owned by CommonSpirit Health, which was formed in 2019 by the merger of nonprofit giants Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, making it the largest nonprofit health system in the nation. Last year Common Spirit Health had a nearly $1 billion operating revenue gain and investment income of $3.4 billion.

“When management tells us they cannot afford to hire more staff, we say it is your responsibility to maintain quality standards at this hospital and that means using the vast resources of CommonSpirit Health to do so,” said Litza Henry, medical/surgical RN. “Providing our patients with the care they need should be management’s top priority. You cannot expect nurses who are exhausted, working overtime and double duty as RNs and nurses’ aides, without meal and rest breaks, to provide patients the quality care they deserve.” 

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the nation with 100,000 members in more than 200 facilities throughout California and more than 175,000 RNs nationwide.