Barton nurses to hold two-day strike starting Friday

Laney Griffo
Nurses have held several strikes over the past few years.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Registered nurses at Barton Memorial Hospital are planning a two-day strike to raise awareness about staffing issues at the hospital.

According to a press release from the California Nurses’ Association, the strike is in response to Barton’s board of directors, “refusing to address persistent patient safety issues, including short staffing and deepening nurse recruitment and retention problems,” as well as pay discrepancies between Barton leadership and the nurses.

“As a longtime member of this community, and a longtime nurse at Barton Memorial Hospital, it breaks my heart to see so many nurses leave our hospital due to the poor working conditions, the short-staffing issues, and the board’s general disrespect for the nurses,” Dorothy Dean, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room said in the release. “Throughout the pandemic, nurses literally put their lives on the line working without adequate personal protective equipment, without clear protocols for how to safely provide care, and by logging hours of overtime when our community needed us most. We are proud to have cared for our patients during such a difficult year, now it is time for Barton’s board of directors to show us the respect we deserve and work with us to settle a contract that allows us to provide the highest quality of care to our patients.”

Barton and the nurses’ union have spent many months negotiating contracts.

“We are disappointed the nurses are choosing to strike even though we provided a fair and equitable contract to the union 13 months ago with little to no response,” said Mindi Befu, Barton’s public information officer. “Barton provided the union its final, comprehensive contract in February 2020 that – if approved by the nurses – would immediately resolve this labor dispute,” Befu continued. “Our proposal provides nurses with a rich wage and benefit package, including a 17% average pay increase over four years. The average wage for a full-time nurse at Barton is currently $49 per hour or approximately $103,000 per year. However, Barton nurses have never seen the contract because the union has yet to share it with them.”

Befu added that Barton assigned a team to procure over $4 million on COVID-related equipment and facility upgrades, including PPE. And that the hospital followed guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Department of Public Health and the public health agencies in El Dorado and Douglas counties.

Dean said in the release that many nurses have left the hospital this year already, and the hospital’s own data indicates that more than 13% of the nurses left the hospital last year.

“Barton will tell you the percentage of nurses who have left in the last couple years and will write it off as normal, but I have worked shoulder to shoulder with many of them. I know their names, their skills, the care they gave, and their stories,” said Rachelle Pakes, a registered nurse and Tahoe native. “These nurses make up the fabric of our community. Some have been at the hospital for 10 years or even 30 years. When they leave, we lose a valuable and skillful care provider and mentor for the new nurses.”

Another issue the nurses have raised is pay discrepancies between leadership and the nurses.

The press release said many RNs leave because the compensation and benefits do not allow nurses to live in the community, while at the same time, the CEO of Barton Health, Dr. Clint Purvance earned $751,766 in total compensation in 2019, according to Barton’s 990 tax filing.

“It is unconscionable to me that Barton’s board of directors, which oversees an organization with assets worth $300 million, is willing to pay an exorbitant salary to a CEO yet is so stingy when it comes to providing for those in need in our own community,” said Dean.

“Salaries for senior management are set the same way salaries are established for nurses, technicians or any other of our employees or contracted physicians,” Befu said. “A third party consultant compares our positions with those in other health care organizations of similar size and scope to ensure we pay all of our team members fair market value for their work.”

The strike will be held virtually from 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 16, to 7:20 a.m. Sunday, April 18.

“Barton has hired qualified temporary staff to care for patients should our nurses choose to walk out,” Befu said. “The health and safety of our community continues to be our top priority.”

The replacement nurses will work through until April 21 at 7:30 a.m. At that time, striking nurses will be allowed to return to their regularly scheduled shifts.

Nurses will picket outside Barton Memorial Hospital at 2170 South Ave, South Lake Tahoe and there will also be a virtual press conference held at 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 16.

A virtual rally for the nurses will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday and can be live-streamed on the California Nurses Association Facebook page.

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