Nurses converge on capital

Sixteen nurses from Enloe Medical Center joined 14 nurses from Redding and Mt. Shasta on a bus ride this week that carried them to Sacramento, where they gave testimony and protested Gov. Schwarzenegger’s emergency regulation to roll back the state’s mandatory nurses-to-patients ratio law signed by Gov. Davis in 1999.

The ratios were set to go into effect Jan. 1, but Schwarzenegger acted last November to put off enforcement of the law, arguing that their financial impact on hospitals would be disastrous. The California Nurses Association sued the governor in response. David Welch, an RN who works for Enloe, said about 2,000 nurses from across the state converged on the capital for the hearing before the Department of Health Services.

The hearing was to determine if the governor’s emergency regulation, which is in effect for only 120 days, would be made permanent, which would mean the ratios wouldn’t go into effect until 2008.

“It was in this big meeting room in the Sacramento Convention Center, and it was just packed with nurses giving testimony.” Welch said a large group of the nurses marched from there to the Capitol Building, where they held a rally. Along the way, he said, the marchers crossed paths with Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, who was on his way back to his office after eating lunch. Welch said the nurses asked Keene to join the rally, but the assemblyman declined. Welch said Keene appeared “perplexed” by the encounter.

By the end of February the DHS should issue a formal finding on the governor’s emergency decree, Welch said. The CNA lawsuit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court in November, has an initial trial date set for Feb. 25. The suit says the governor and the DHS compromised patient protection and abused the governor’s executive authority to overturn legislative mandate and that in doing so he set a dangerous precedent.

"Our attorney feels pretty optimistic about the suit," Welch said.