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Nurses group frustrated over staffing issues at Grass Valley hospital

A group of nurses at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital say they want to draw attention to what they call “persistently unsafe conditions” at the Grass Valley facility, claiming management has failed to hire more staff.

To highlight their concerns, nurses this week have been handing out flyers throughout Grass Valley about “the unsafe working conditions at the facility.” They call on people to contact Chief Nursing Officer Lori Katterhagen and demand that the hospital provide proper staffing.

The California Nurses Association, which this week issued a press release about the issue, represents 251 RNs at the Grass Valley hospital.

Katterhagen in a statement said she respects the California Nursing Association’s right to raise concerns, adding that the community should be assured that no patient has been put at risk or harm because of staffing practices.

Toni Hill, a nurse since 2003, said nurses have been trying to bargain with management for years over staffing. The pandemic only exacerbated the problems.

When Hill started her career, she’d typically have one patient in a group who couldn’t walk to the bathroom or who needed to be bathed and fed. Now she has two or three.

Working long hours, nurses get injured and go on leave, which worsens staffing issues, she added.

“This issue has been going on for years,” Hill said. “COVID just exacerbated it. There were already underlying problems.”

According to Hill, management in the past has said “that they hear us.”

“They always tell us they hear us,” she added. “I don’t think that’s accurate.”

Carrie St. Thomas, a telemetry unit RN, said in a news release that the problem’s root is what she called management’s failure to keep a commitment and hire more RNs and ancillary staff.

“They also expect RNs to take on the workload of nurses’ aides and at the same time attend to our patient’s medical needs,” Thomas said. “We cannot do this in a safe manner.”

The California Nurses Association states that hospital management has reduced the number of nurses’ aides; that RNs are working 13- to 16-hour days without rest breaks; that nurses are pressured to work overtime; and that management has refused to hire more staff.

“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, in the release. “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.”

Katterhagen, chief nursing officer, said in a statement that the hospital’s top priority is the care and safety of patients and employees.

“We have worked extensively with the CNA to address these claims internally, we continue to engage transparently with the CNA regarding our efforts, and are committed to providing our nursing staff and all other employees with a safe, equitable, and compassionate environment to carry out their critical duties,” she said.

Alan Riquelmy is the managing editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4249

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