View From Lodi, CA: Arnold Versus the Nurses

Many years ago, when

my father
was in the final days of his life at UCLA
Medical Center, his nurses were a

great comfort
to him.

Dad`s doctors came into his room,
delivered their abrupt updates and left without further

But the nurses lingered, held Dad`s
hand and spoke to him in gentle, loving tones.

Since that time some twenty-five
years ago, nurses have always held a special place in my

So I am torn
about the battle between the

California Nurses Association

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At issue is
whether to protect a 1999 safe staffing law that would
have changed the existing nurse-patient ratio from one
nurse per six patients to one nurse per five patients
effective January 1 2005.

In November,

Schwarzenegger issued an emergency order
maintained the

previous one to six ratio.


Then, at the
Governor`s Conference on Women and Families,
Schwarzenegger ejected protesting nurses. According to
the nurses, Schwarzenegger behaved boorishly by mocking
them from the podium, calling them "special interests"
and saying he was going to

"kick their butts."

Understandably, nurses objected to being labeled with a
term most frequently associated with

major corporate donors.

They fought

filed a lawsuit asking the Sacramento Supreme Court to
set aside Schwarzenegger`s emergency order. The suit
claims that Schwarzenegger violated the legal
requirements for issuing an emergency order since such
orders are only necessary for the immediate safety and
well being of the public.

predicts that, if allowed to stand, the emergency order
would set a precedent that would allow regulations or
laws enacted in the public interest to be set aside
without legislative review.

Taking its message to the public, the CNA ran a
television advertising campaign that took
Schwarzenegger`s patient safety concepts to task.

ads, directed voluntarily by Emmy-award winning
documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, appeared on
every major cable market in California.

the ad, registered nurse

Melita Dionosio-Temple
says, "One thing the
public should know is one day you will be in that bed
and realize that because of the number of patients one
nurse has to take care of you may be calling and there
is nobody there."

the story is incredibly more complex than Dionosio-Temple
paints it.

California faces a critical shortage of
nurses—possibly as high as 14,000. At

Lodi Memorial Hospital,
13 open nursing positions
are unfilled.

according to a California Hospital Association report
titled "California Health Care 2005-2010: A View of
the Future"
the shortage will grow larger by the end of the decade.

the patient load steadily increases, the demands on
every aspect of hospital care become greater.

2010, the C.H.A. projects that California will have more
than 40 million residents. Of that number, 4.5 million
will be older than 65, an increase of 30% from today`s
3.6 million.


health care costs
will continue to increase,
according to the report.

Against this backdrop, in 2004 nine California hospitals
shut their doors as did two hospital emergency centers
and two trauma units.

short, California faces the distinct possibility of more
hospital closings and severely rationed health care if
current conditions continue.

Given the dire conditions of California health care
today, is this the time for the CNA to force
Schwarzenegger`s hand regarding nurse/patient ratios?

What both sides need to do is tone down the rhetoric.
Clearly, nurses are not special interests. For
Schwarzenegger to deride them doesn`t advance his side
of the debate.

to call Schwarzenegger a "vulgar, arrogant bully,"
as C.N.A. executive director Rose Ann De Moro

recently did
, won`t take the nurses where they want
to go either.

Instead of leading with his chin, as Schwarzenegger has
done of late, he should acknowledge that nurses are, to
quote Greenwald,

"the true heroes and heroines in our world."

one will argue. But until California gets a better
handle on managing health care, then postponing the
adjustment in patient/ nurse ratios until 2008 might be
the wisest decision.

Joseph P. Harrington, the President and Chief Executive
Officer of the Lodi Memorial Hospital, agrees.

This week, during conversations I had with his office,
Harrington said, "We must preserve access to care and
address nursing shortage with a systemic, fact-based
response.  The changes made by the Governor will allow
us the opportunity to do that."

the meantime, there are signs that conditions in nursing
may be turning around. Johnson and Johnson Health Care
Systems is promoting nursing among young people through

"Discover Nursing"

Through its outreach to youngsters, Johnson and Johnson
hopes to restore the

image of nursing
and help the profession regain its
status as one of the most rewarding careers anyone can


immigration has devastated health care in the US.

you are a veteran trying to access

benefits once available to you,

a workingman trying to hold
on to family coverage or one of the tens of millions of

uninsured Americans,
ability of

illegal aliens to receive medical treatment

has reduced your chances of
decent coverage.

lucky ones who can still afford coverage are paying
higher premiums and co-pays.

Backbreaking medical costs are often cited as one of the
leading causes in personal bankruptcies.

A young
friend of mine is a nurse at a major


hospital. She
told me that last week, a non-English speaking patient
pulled out a scrap of paper from his shirt pocket. There
someone had written his name and address for
identification purposes.

friend called a Filipino nurse over to help her

understand what the man wanted
He had been in the United
States three days and wanted to know if he could get
long-term care for cancer at the hospital.

He was

As a doctor recently said to
me, "You pay more because they

pay nothing.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel