Nurses take to sidewalk, holding vigil to draw attention to their plight

“People come at us so angry. We’re just trying to do our job. We don’t have ancillary staff, and we’re doing everything on our own.”
Nurses and their supporters turned out Thursday evening to call for better working conditions at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.

Backed by a soundtrack of Pete Seeger and the honking horns of supportive drivers, about a dozen nurses and supporters gathered on North Indian Canyon Drive outside Desert Regional Medical Center Thursday evening for a candlelight vigil to bring awareness to problems like understaffing and poor retention.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nurses have been asking for more staff. The latest plea came several months ago when five Desert Regional nurses gave public comments at a Desert Healthcare District Board of Directors meeting.

Local reporting and journalism you can count on.

Subscribe to The Palm Springs Post

At the meeting, the nurses told the Board they were expected to take on too many patients at one time due to the lack of nurses and nursing assistants. They also complained about a lack of supplies and sewage seeping into an intensive care unit. 

Last week, a spokesperson for the hospital refuted claims that management wasn’t meeting its obligations to the nurses.

“We are a seasonal market and have invested in traveling nurses to meet the increased demand,” said Richard Ramhoff, a spokesperson for Desert Care Network. “Desert Regional is dedicated to meeting all nurse-patient ratios. To suggest otherwise is just not correct.”

On Thursday, one Board member joined the nurses at the vigil, a hopeful sign for those participating in the vigil.

“I have so much empathy for nurses,” said Director Carole Rogers, a registered nurse with more than 45 years of healthcare experience. “We need to support them, and we have to get better staffing levels.”

Rogers doesn’t know what the answer is, but wants to do whatever she can to help the cause.

“I’m not an expert on recruitment, but we could do a better job,” she said. “If nurses don’t have enough staffing, they get burned out and just move on.”

There’s data that proves the extent of burnout then nurses are experiencing. According to exit interviews conducted by a committee of nurses at Desert Regional, 122 nurses left the hospital last year, many for less pay. Of those who took the survey, the majority identified a lack of management support for their decision.

For now, the nurses have to rely on travel nurses.

“The travelers are wonderful, but they’re only here for four weeks, and by the time they really learn our systems and get comfortable, they leave,” said Caroline Ng’ang’a. 

Ng’ang’a described a recent chaotic shift when she worked as a resource nurse. Resource nurses, she explained, are there to provide breaks for other nurses and give an extra hand to any nurse in need. 

She was getting pulled in several different directions, helping a traveler nurse in the ER with a patient who would’ve been in the ICU if it had room, then performing tasks that are done by ancillary staff, like running to get medications from the basement.

“We don’t even have staff to do that,” she said. She said that when medication is ordered, it’s hard to get it administered right away.

While caring for a patient who was not stable, she said she got called to help other ICU patients in the ER. “I was pushing and telling them about how unstable my patient was, but I was still pulled away.”

That patient eventually passed away. Ng’ang’a clarified that there’s no way of knowing if the patient would have died even if she had stayed by their side.

“It’s a traumatic situation. I needed help, but nobody was there for me,” she said. “You’re begging for help, and it’s just very demoralizing. You feel like a failure.”

She points to that episode as just one of many similar experiences her fellow nurses have gone through. “If they want to know how to retain nurses, you don’t put them in a situation like that. It doesn’t make them want to come back.”

Lori Ruggiero, an ICU nurse at Desert Regional, agreed, “We’re constantly working 12-hour shifts, sometimes without a meal break. It’s nonstop. It’s mentally and physically draining.”

While they wait for more nursing staff to fill in the gaps, Ruggiero and others want to remind the public to have patience if they find themselves in the hospital.

“People come at us so angry. We’re just trying to do our job,” she said. “We don’t have ancillary staff, and we’re doing everything on our own. Patients and family members yelling at us, it’s degrading.”


Sign up for news updates.

Receive vital news about our city in your inbox for free every day.

100% local.

The Post was founded by local residents who saw gaps in existing news coverage and believed our community deserved better.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top