After working without a contract since Dec. 30, 1996, Kaiser Permanente nurses in Northern California staged a two-day strike Jan. 28 and 29, leaving Kaiser hospitals scrambling to meet inpatient care needs, instituting mandatory overtime and canceling elective surgeries.
Nurses say that they want a contract that guarantees them a voice in staffing and that Kaiser's cost-cutting measures have hurt quality of care. The HMO says the real issue is money and has been willing to negotiate on salary. An analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle found little evidence to back up nurses' claims that patient care is at risk, reporting that the average number of nursing hours per patient day at Kaiser hospitals in Northern California rose from 7.19 in 1991 to 7.63 in 1996. Comparable figures for non-Kaiser hospitals were 5.51 in 1991 and 5.76 in 1995.
The strike came as many Northern California hospitals were near capacity because of a flu epidemic. The University of California-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento received state approval to add beds during the strike.