.Watsonville Hospital Nurses Decry Scheduling Changes

Nurses speak out about the Watsonville Community Hospital eliminating most part-time positions, saying it has left the hospital short-staffed.

Roughly 100 nurses who work at Watsonville Community Hospital gathered at the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Nielsen Street Wednesday to call attention to a recent scheduling change they say affects the way they do their job.

The nurses were speaking out against a decision by hospital administration—which was approved in 2022 by the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Board of Directors—that requires all nurses to work full-time, eliminating most part-time positions.

“We are asking the employer to reconsider,” says Annabelle Covington, who has been a nurse in the labor and delivery department for 21 years. “We need to retain and recruit nurses, and in order to do that we need more part-time positions.”

As a result of the decision, Covington says, 42 nurses resigned, leaving the hospital short-staffed and requiring the use of traveling nurses.

“They live here, they wanted to work here, but because they couldn’t have a good work-life balance they decided they couldn’t stay here,” she says.

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WCH Interim CEO Matko Vranjes says those numbers are not entirely accurate.

“We actually had 29 benefitted nurses that have left since August 31,” he says. “Of those, 21 were full-time nurses. So only three that were part-time that potentially left for that reason.”

Vranjes also says that the 183 nurses—amounting to 164 full-time equivalent employers—is a larger number than before last year’s transition to being a community-owned hospital.

The reason for the change, he says, was the unsustainable amount of overtime pay the part-time employees were making.

“The previous model wasn’t sustainable,” he says. “You can’t continue to pay higher-than-normal rates for staffing and be successful.”

Still, emergency room nurse Quiché Rubalcava says the “arbitrary, unilateral change” to the schedule occurred without bargaining from the union.

The staffing loss that followed, Rubalcava says, was a “tragedy.”

“Those nurses were committed to the hospital,” he says. “They were on the front lines of Covid, they fought through the bankruptcy, and then they were told that their schedules had to change without any say and without the union,” he says. 

Rubalcava says the hospital’s claim of making the change to save money backfired. He says the existing nurses are working more to fill the shifts left by the part-timers and required bringing in traveling nurses.

ICU nurse Tiyana Shields says the nurses warned the administration of the potential consequences of the scheduling change, which they did not heed.

“We were ignored, and now here we are and it’s getting worse,” she says. “We’re still losing nurses.”

As the California Nurses Association prepares to go to contract negotiations with the hospital in July, the nurses are hoping administrators will restore part-time positions, which Vranjes says is a possibility.

“We’re very hopeful of this being a new day as we’ve entered community ownership, and that we’ll get to a good resolution and make sure the facility is sustainable and stable for a long time to come. and we’ll keep working toward that goal,” he says.


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