Kaiser Permanente nurses hold informational pickets for nurse and patient safety
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

OAKLAND, Calif. – As passing cars honked in solidarity, dozens of registered nurses and nurse practitioners, members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, walked an informational picket line Sept. 1 in front of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center to protest Kaiser administrators’ refusal to address their deep concerns about health and safety issues and chronic short staffing.

The Oakland pickets, carrying signs proclaiming “Safe Staffing Saves Lives” and “No Kaiser Without Nurses,” were among nurses and nurse practitioners picketing at 21 Kaiser facilities around northern California and the Central Valley as well the giant healthcare corporation’s Los Angeles Medical Center. CNA/NNU represents over 22,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at Kaiser facilities in California.

The nurses in northern California have been negotiating for a new contract since June and those in Los Angeles have been in talks since August 2021, with little or no movement on key issues including health and safety provisions addressing the dangers of infectious diseases, workplace violence prevention standards for frontline nurses, and minimum staffing guidelines to ensure safe patient care.

Among the marchers was Britta Houser, a registered nurse at the Oakland Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

“What we’re seeing is short-staffing across Kaiser’s facilities,” she said. “We don’t have enough nurses to take care of our patients adequately, to give them the care they deserve and that we want to provide. And we know that Kaiser has the resources to staff up in the way that we, and this community, deserve for the hospital to be staffed.”

Asked about Kaiser’s claims of an across-the-boards shortage of nurses, and news reports about nurses exhausted by the pandemic and leaving the profession, Houser said the hospitals had been short-staffed long before the pandemic, with nurses leaving as a result.

“The good news is that Kaiser could take steps to stem that tide – signing a good contract, making sure there are enough nurses to care for patients and that we have the resources we need would go a long way toward making this a place where people would want to come to work, and stay.”

Robin Watkins, a registered nurse at Kaiser Oakland’s intensive care unit, said he and his colleagues are “so passionate” about safe staffing because they are seeing what is happening to their patients. “In the ICU,” he said, “we pride ourselves on turning our patients, protecting their skin. And we’ve seen a spike in pressure sores, bed sores. Other units such as our med surge, med tele units have seen an increase in falls, because we don’t have the resources we used to have to care for our patients.”

Watkins emphasized that health care is “dynamic” and constantly changing. In the ICU, he said, everything may be smooth sailing, “and then, Boom! You’re helping your neighbor when their patient is crashing, or you get an emergency admit that throws off all your resources.” While there used to be more resource nurses, he said, staffing is now pared down to a level where nurses can no longer meet the constantly shifting demands of patient care.

CNA/NNU emphasizes that Kaiser has the resources to provide adequate staff. In a statement, CNA President Cathy Kennedy, a registered nurse in Kaiser Roseville’s neonatal ICU, pointed out that “Kaiser made more than $14 billion during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet we are still struggling with chronic short staffing statewide.

“We need more nurses to provide the care our patients deserve,” she said. “There is simply no reason or excuse for nurses to be short-staffed this long into the pandemic.”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.