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Patient Shifts, Contract Spark Alta Bates Protest By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday June 07, 2005

Tensions are heating up over impending changes at both East Bay Alta Bates hospitals. 

In addition to the fact that the contract for registered nurses is about to expire, recent moves of services between hospitals have alarmed some staff members. 

The latest moves will transfer elderly psychiatric patients from Oakland to the chain’s Herrick Hospital in Berkeley and will move patients from the Oakland hospital’s cancer care unit up three floors into an orthopedic ward. 

Last September, all maternity functions were transferred from the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland to the Alta Bates facility on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley. 

The California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents Registered Nurses (who have more training than licensed vocational nurses), held a press conference outside the Oakland hospital Monday noon to protest the shifts. 

One of those speaking on behalf of his fellow nurses was Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson. 

While Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn E. Kemp said the moves will have no impact on patient care and will involve no restructures, CNA members and officials said Monday the effects will be profound. 

CNA Communications Officer Charles Idelson said, “It is our understanding that Herrick doesn’t have the capacity to care for its existing patients, much less those from Summit.” 

Kemp said moving the Oakland hospital’s 17-bed Geropsychiatry Unit to the Herrick Campus, a 105-bed psychiatric unit in Berkeley, would provide enhanced opportunities for patients. 

“The program at Herrick is one of the largest and oldest in Northern California,” she said. “The move will make the program more comprehensive and give it greater breadth.” 

Oncology nurse Jan Rodolfo, who has worked five years in the Oakland hospital’s oncology ward, said the changes will be profound. 

Kemp said the average number of patients currently assigned to the oncology unit averages about 10 per day, while Rodolfo said the census is kept artificially low by assigning cancer patients to other units. 

While the current second-floor unit is dedicated to cancer patients and staffed by five oncology nurses per shift, the move to the fifth floor will place patients in vacant beds in a unit dedicated to orthopedic care. Only two oncology units will be assigned per shift, Rodolfo said. 

While the initial announcement from Summit said the change in the oncology unit would be permanent, Rodolfo said officials are hinting that the move may be temporary. 

“The problem with that,” she said, “is that most of the oncology nurses who will be forced to move to other units may have left for other hospitals by then. 

“Summit doesn’t seem to recognize that it takes time to train nurses to a particular hospital’s program, and they also don’t seem to realize how much time is spent in patient and family education.” 

Rodolfo added that non-oncology nurses are sometimes reluctant to administer the high levels of pain medication needed by many cancer patients. 

Kemp said part of CNA’s motivation was because of the impending June 30 end of their current contract with the hospital’s nurses. 

“You always hear a lot of charges when it comes time for contract negotiation,” she said. 

Non-RN hospital staff have been bogged down in negotiations with the hospital chain since their contract expired over a year ago. 

“We already gave them their wage increase and benefits,” Kemp said. 

One of the key sticking points in negotiations between Summit and parent Sutter Health Care has been the Service Employees International Union’s insistence on a comprehensive agreement that would include most or all of the chain’s Northern California hospitals.