By Deb Murphy

Tuesday’s special meeting of the Northern Inyo Hospital board meeting started calmly enough, with a brief statement from the nurse’s union organizing committee spokesman and supportive comments from members of the medical staff.

NIH Sign

When the board came out of closed session, Board President M.C. Hubbard explained the meeting had been called so the board could learn what their role was in the newly-formed union. “The cards will be validated and nothing can be done until then. It will take about a month” before any negotiations can begin.

The process involves the cards signed by RNs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants vetted to confirm a majority support the union, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The fireworks didn’t start until the board opened the floor for final comments. In response to questions from Dr. Jennifer Scott, administrators went on the defensive. Chief Executive Officer Victoria Alexander-Lane and Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Decker both explained the steps they had taken to deal with financial issues and the caregivers’ concerns, respectively.

Blame for the communication disconnect between caregivers on the floor and administration appeared to be put on middle-management. In response, Maura Richman, a member of the organizing committee, said “we love our middle management. They’re just stressed.”

One of the issues referred to during the hour-long comment period was balancing nurse to patient ratios in the fluid dynamics of hospital care. Scott, an emergency room physician, explained the impact of pulling a nurse off ER duty to fill in elsewhere; a floor nurse described the stress of patient care when her shift was short a nurse’s assistant. “This is our reality,” she said.

NIH Sign

“The best nurses in our hospital are on the organizing committee,” said Scott. “We have to come together. There’s no ‘you,’ no ‘they’ or ‘middle management.’ I don’t believe this is about money, it’s about having a voice in patient care.”

Scott’s suggestion that the hospital “would be better served by a 360-degree review,” was not taken well by Decker or Lane. “We need feedback from the bottom to the top,” she said, “as well as from the top down.”

“We need to step back, take a breath and respect each other,” said Hubbard, ending the meeting.

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