Nurses across the state organized recently to either strike or hold informational picketing as their profession faces staffing shortages and burnout.

Earlier this month, more than 8,000 nurses who work with Sutter Health all over the state went on a one-day strike. On Monday, April 25, roughly 5,000 nurses with Stanford and Packard went on strike.

On Wednesday, nurses employed by nine Tenet hospitals throughout the state held “informational pickets” to raise awareness about challenges they say they face.

Registered nurses at Tenet’s San Ramon Regional Medical Center gathered at 6001 Norris Canyon Road on Wednesday at noon and held up signs that read “One Strong Union, One Strong Contract.”

Nurses claim that Tenet made a “record profit” of $991 million during the pandemic and they’d like to see some of that money go towards hiring and retaining nurses in an effort to address grueling schedules and understaffing.

According to National Nurses United, a professional association of nurses, people are leaving the profession in high numbers since the pandemic began. Of Tenet’s hospitals, 137 have left in Palm Springs, 160 in Modesto, and nearly 100 in Turlock, the union said.

Of nurses hired by Tenet between 2019 and 2021, NNU claims that 57 percent of nurses in Joshua Tree have left, 40 percent in Templeton, and 36 percent in San Ramon.

Eliot Navarra, 3, the son of registered nurse Doris Navarra, displays a sign during an informational picket by Tenet nurses in San Ramon on Wednesday. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

A show of solidarity

Lynda Bredleau is nurse at the San Ramon Regional Medical Center and is the chief nurse rep for the nurses union there. She joined her colleagues on Wednesday in an informational picket while contract negotiations are underway.

“We want to show Tenet that we have a lot of support,” said Bredleau, as cars passed by and honked in solidarity. “We want to show the Tenet Corporation, which is in Texas, that the California nurses that work for Tenet are joining together to demand for better staffing for our patient’s safety and nurses’ rights.”

Nurse Anthony Fidel was also at the event in San Ramon to draw attention to the nursing shortage.

“It’s a shame, because all of these hospitals, either profit or nonprofit, have actually made money during the COVID surges,” he said. “There’s no reason why they can’t meet the stresses that everyone is suffering from with the increase in inflation.”

“We remain committed to doing everything possible to stay well-staffed. … We are working with our staffing agency to bring traveler nurses onboard and we are continuously working to recruit additional nurses.”

Krista Deans, Tenet Corporation spokesperson

Communications Director for the Tenet Corporation Krista Deans said that Tenet was disappointed in the actions taken by nurses on Wednesday.

“While we value all of our nurses who are represented by the California Nurses Association, we are disappointed that the union is taking this action,” said Deans in an email. “We are currently negotiating with the union, bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement.”

Deans said that like many hospitals across the country, Tenet has been facing staffing challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Registered nurses at Tenet’s San Ramon Regional Medical Center participate in the California Nurses Association (CNA) informational picket (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

“We remain committed to doing everything possible to stay well-staffed. To support our care teams, we have been exercising all options available to us. We are working with our staffing agency to bring traveler nurses onboard and we are continuously working to recruit additional nurses,” Deans said.

According to a 2020 study by the National Institutes of Health, more registered nursing jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States.

An article in Nursing Times states that the U.S. will need 275,000 additional nurses by the year 2030.

The NIH study said that the main reasons for the nurse shortage are an aging population that necessitates more care, a lack of equitable workforce distribution, and high turnover.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.