California Nurses Strike Over Wage Cuts That Hospital Officials Blame On Obamacare

Registered nurses and hospital engineers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Sonoma County, California continued a planned three-day strike over disagreements regarding compensation packages today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The strike is a result of disputes between the Staff Nurses’ Association and the hospital over adequate staffing levels, working hours, and wages. While the nurses’ union warns of a backlash from qualified nurses in the absence of a reasonable compromise, predicting the wage cut could prevent the hospital from being able to attract and retain qualified staff, Santa Rosa Memorial claims the cuts are necessary in the face of upcoming Obamacare regulations:

Most of the nearly 660 nurses represented by the Staff Nurses’ Association walked off the job early Saturday, union president Sue Gadbois said. […]

Hospital officials have noted that they are run by the nonprofit group, St. Joseph Health-Sonoma County, and that the hospital doesn’t post profits or reward shareholders. Costs must be controlled because of tighter operating margins and anticipated reductions in government health care reimbursements, officials said.

“The hospital has engaged and continues to engage in good faith bargaining with our registered nurses,” hospital spokesman Debra Miller said. “We anticipate reimbursement rates going down, and we have asked our nurses to share in some of the cost savings.”

Miller is referring to Obamacare’s effort to curb national medical spending by rolling back Medicare reimbursements rates by one percent and reallocating those funds to hospitals that score higher on a range of quality metrics. The Sonoma County hospital is liekly concerned about its funding because its serviceable region has seen a surge in its percentage of Medicare-eligible residents in the last decade — from less than 15 percent of the county in 2000 to over 20 percent today — which increases its share of Medicare patients and costs.

But Santa Rosa Memorial’s decision to shift the burden of austerity measures onto nurses isn’t the best approach to cutting costs. According to 2011 wage estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses’ mean annual wages rank 29th out of 53 health care practitioner fields, more than $100,000 a year lower than the family doctors they assist and only slightly higher than most sedentary lab technicians. This is despite the fact that nurses are essentially the nuts and bolts of the medical profession, assisting in nearly every technical aspect of health care delivery while also responsible for the brunt of personal patient interaction.

Rather than singling out nurses for wage cutbacks, hospitals like Santa Rosa Memorial would do better to concentrate on cutting down their health spending and providing efficient, quality coverage so as to avoid the reimbursement cuts — and perhaps even reap a repayment bonus.