Health Care

South Florida nurses go on ‘historic’ strike in Hialeah, calling for more staffing

About two dozen registered nurses demonstrated outside Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah on Friday, saying they are stretched too thin to do their jobs well, and calling for higher nurse-to-patient ratios.

The rally was part of a strike organized by National Nurses United. It extended to Florida Medical Center in Lauderdale Lakes, another hospital owned by Tenet Healthcare. Organizers said these were the first-ever hospital employee strikes in Florida. Nurses at both hospitals are represented by the union, which has about 900 members involved in the strike. The union said it has about 7,000 members statewide.

Nurses at Tenet hospitals in California and Arizona also went on strike Friday. Tenet is a for-profit healthcare company based in Dallas.

At Palmetto General Hospital, nurses rallied on the side of the road to a steady stream of honking cars, including a Hialeah Fire Department truck, which blared its horn, eliciting cheers from the nurses and organizers.

Yajaira Roman, who works as a nurse in the neurological intensive care unit and is on the bargaining team, said nurses at Palmetto are working 12-hour shifts and seeing too many patients.

Roman said that the nurses’ contract expired in March and the bargaining team has been frustrated with a lack of progress. Being stretched too thin, she added, is the nurses’ main concern.

Low nurse-to-patient ratios have resulted in less individualized care, she said, and often nurses are simply checking off tasks assigned to them by doctors. Sometimes, she added, the nurses worry about forgetting to do certain tasks because there are so many to complete.

“We drive home with those thoughts on our mind,” she said.

Roman said that wages and benefits are also at issue in the negotiations.

Gillian Edwards-Brown, who is also on the bargaining team and works in the ICU, told the crowd gathered outside for the rally, “You guys know you’re making history today, right?”

“It’s OK to stand up for your patients, especially for us to fight for our patient ratios more than anything else,” she said.

Patricia Villa, a spokeswoman for Palmetto General Hospital and Florida Medical Center, said the hospitals are continuing to provide “quality, compassionate patient care today during a one-day strike called by the National Nurses Organizing Committee.”

“The hospital is fully operational, and our staff’s focus, as always, is on providing exceptional quality patient care and service,” Villa said. “Patients and their loved ones can be assured that Palmetto General Hospital is staffed with qualified and experienced, non-striking nurses and all our other caregivers through the strike’s duration.”

Villa said Palmetto General Hospital is disappointed in the union taking the strike action, “which in our view is not constructive or necessary.”

“We have made progress toward a new contract and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of resolution,” Villa said. “We value our relationship with all our employees, and we are committed to resolving the contract negotiations.”