Barton Health nurses give notice of intent to strike | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Barton Health nurses give notice of intent to strike

Local nurses protest at the corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Third Street Monday morning.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Registered nurses at Barton Health intend to go on strike amid ongoing labor negotiations.

The nurse bargaining team on Monday night gave their notice of intent to strike on Feb. 15.

The decision follows a vote in late January overwhelmingly in favor of granting the labor team the ability to call for a strike.

The two sides have been in negotiations since March 2018, roughly four months after the nurses voted to unionize.

There are several key bargaining items that led the nurses to call for a strike, said Beth Dameral, a registered nurse for over 20 years and member of the bargaining team.

Nurses have maintained that they receive substandard benefits, which contributes to high turnover and leaves some nurses unable to pay for medical expenses.

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They also point to what they describe as bare-bones staffing that contributes to a lesser quality work environment.

"Registered Nurses at Barton have spent years working under conditions of poor staffing and not being able to get breaks," Dameral told the Tribune in a statement. "Barton's predatory system of putting over a quarter of its own nurses in collections for using the healthcare benefit they provided has also contributed to dissatisfaction."

Barton has refuted those arguments, contending it is on par or better than industry and state averages.

"At Barton Health, we take great care of the nurses, caregivers and all employees who deliver high quality care to our patients," Mindi Befu, Barton's director of public relations, told the Tribune in an email.

Specifically, Befu said Barton has hired 29 nurses since 2017 to maintain state required staffing ratios, and the breaks afforded to nurses at Barton are greater than the state mandate.

Barton employees also have the ability, as do all patients, to set up an interest-free payment plan for medical bills. Barton, according to Befu, uses common billing practices that follow hospital national standards.

As for the negotiations, Dameral said Barton is using national anti-union measures to limit nurses' ability to advocate for patients and themselves. The end result, she and others argue, is a lesser quality of care than what nurses want to deliver to patients.

"As union nurses we want to be able to provide safe and effective care to the community and we want to keep our nurses local and curb the migration of high quality nurses in the future."

The impact on services the day of the strike will be minimal, according to Barton.

With the exception of Lake Tahoe Surgery Center in Zephyr Cove, all departments will remain open and staffed. Surgery center patients will be rescheduled for services at Barton Memorial Hospital or Carson Valley Medical Center.

To ensure continued services Barton has hired licensed nurses to temporarily fill in for those on strike.

The agency providing the temporary nurses requires a minimum of five days, a detail that Barton says the California Nurses Association — the union Barton nurses joined in 2017 — is fully aware of.

As a result, nurses who strike will not return to work until Feb. 20 at the earliest, despite the fact the nurses are only striking for one day.