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September 30, 2014

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Nurses sound the alarm on St. Rose Dominican layoffs

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L.E. Baskow

St. Rose Dominican Hospital-Siena RN Orsburn Stone, left, leads a chant during a RN and supporters picketing rally outside the hospital in Henderson on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014.

St. Rose Dominican Nurses Protest

St. Rose Dominican Hospital-Siena RN Orsburn Stone, left, leads a chant during a RN and supporters picketing rally outside the hospital in Henderson on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Nurse Orsburn Stone and about 200 fellow picketers gathered in front of St. Rose Dominican's Siena Campus Tuesday evening with a public message for the hospital:

"(Management officials) are cutting to the bone," Stone said. "I don't think the public is aware that their nursing care is being degraded. It really is time that the nurses sound the alarm."

Stone, 62, is one of 40 employees losing their job at a St. Rose Dominican hospital in the coming weeks — it will be the company's second round of layoffs in the past year. The 33-year nursing veteran says he expects to be out of work within a month.

The group, organized by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, gathered in front of the hospital system's Siena Campus at St. Rose Parkway and Eastern Avenue just after dusk on Tuesday, carrying signs and chanting at motorists who drove by to protest the layoffs. They kept warm with hot chocolate and coffee during the two-hour rally as temperatures swiftly fell into the 40s.

"You know there's something seriously wrong if nurses are taking to the streets," said Liz Bickle, a nurse at Rose de Lima Campus. "Layoffs are just something we couldn't take."

The employees being laid off include eight to 10 nurses from St. Rose's Home Health Services unit, which provides in-home care, said Desi Murray, Catholic Division director at the California Nurses Association.

St. Rose, owned by Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based hospital chain, has 1,400 nurses at its three valley hospitals, Murray said. The 40 layoffs would comprise 3 percent of that workforce.

The company has said that fewer than 25 nursing positions "will be restructured." It said that those affected by the moves "will be offered the opportunity to transfer to a vacant nursing position within St. Rose."

Protesters on Tuesday said most of the nurses being laid off are veteran staffers. They fear that hospital management will fill their positions with less experienced employees.

"Thirty-three years ago, I was a novice as well," Stone said. "Due to the fact that I had these experienced nurses groom me and mentor me, I am the better nurse I am today."

The layoffs come a few months after Dignity officials announced union nurses in Nevada and California had ratified new four-year contracts. The agreements, which expire in June 2017, include a wage freeze in the first year but an overall pay raise of 9 percent over the length of the deal, according to St. Rose.

Hospital officials said a year ago they were eliminating 100 positions from the St. Rose system. The cutbacks were said to be mostly in supervisory or support positions and not in direct patient care.

"We already had a lean staff" before the recent layoffs, said Bonnie Lockwood, a 58-year-old nurse at Siena Campus. "It's unsafe. How can we properly care for patients?"

Executives have blamed the reductions in part on the recession and reduced reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers.

"I've got four kids, and it's hard in this economy," said Pamrose Finau, a part-time nurse who is among those being laid off. Her last day will be Feb. 24.

Wearing blue scrubs, she slipped out of the protest early to head to her second job at Spring Valley Hospital — a position she applied for after learning she'd be leaving St. Rose.

"I'm really concerned about how I'm going to take care of my kids," Finau said.

Sun reporter Eli Segall contributed to this report.

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