Unable to force changes after speaking out, Desert Regional nurses planning vigil

Hospital staff say a crisis in the nursing industry is being felt in Palm Springs, where unsafe conditions for patients exist, as well as an inability to retain nurses. A hospital spokesperson refutes those claims.
Desert Regional Medical Center off Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, as seen Wednesday morning.

Frustrated with the lack of action after years of raising concerns about working conditions at Desert Regional Medical Center, nurses there are planning an event they hope draws more attention to their cause.

Since the pandemic’s start, the Palm Springs hospital’s nurses have voiced concerns about staffing and other conditions. To date, they said little has been done to fix the problems they’ve identified. They plan to hold a candlelight vigil on the sidewalk outside the hospital next Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

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The vigil will be the latest attempt to raise awareness about their working conditions. The most recent was an appearance in November at a Desert Healthcare District Board of Directors meeting.

At that meeting, a handful of staff represented by the California Nurses Association spoke out, detailing issues in multiple departments, including the intensive care unit, the neurology department, and the neonatal intensive care unit. 

One of the nurses who spoke was Rachel Garcia, who works in the ICU. Garcia told the Board that she and other ICU nurses are expected to also act as rapid response nurses for codes and critical emergencies. She spoke of one situation where she had to respond to a cardiac arrest and was forced to leave a patient without an ICU nurse.

“These patients are incredibly sick. They are very fragile,” Garcia told the Board. “They’re on continuous dialysis. They’re using a balloon to pump to help their heart function. They’re supposed to be watched on a one-to-one basis.”

Caroline Ng’ang’a went a step further, telling the Board that Desert Regional management is “Jeopardizing care by its poor staffing and failure to maintain the hospital building.” 

Ng’ang’a said she had seen sewage seep into the ICU from two floors above. “This is unacceptable and a hazard to patients,” she said.

A hospital spokesperson acknowledged issues with the building Wednesday, but refuted any claims that management wasn’t meeting its obligations for nurse-to-patient ratios.

“Our hospital does have an aging building,” said Richard Ramhoff, a spokesperson for Desert Care Network. “We actively work with third-party companies to quickly address any facility repairs needed and ensure we meet national standards for infection control.”

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

As the pandemic crisis played out, so did a crisis in the nursing profession. Hospitals nationwide have experienced nursing shortages after many became exhausted and elected to leave the profession. 

The situation is so dire that 29% of respondents to one survey said they were considering quitting. That could mean that by 2025 the country’s healthcare system would be short as many as 450,000 nurses.

According to exit interviews conducted by a committee of nurses at Desert Regional, shared with The Post on Wednesday, 122 nurses left the hospital last year, many for less pay. Of those who took the survey, the majority identified lack of management support for their decision. Nurses said the lack of support came in the form of targeting, micromanaging, and lack of transparency.

“(M)anagement treats me like I am just a number and completely replaceable,” one nurse wrote in her survey.

Sherry MacManes, a nurse who works in the neonatal ICU, can relate. She told the Board in November that the hospital isn’t likely to overcome its staffing issues because administrators aren’t doing enough to recruit and retain employees. 

“We’ve lost a lot of staff due to retirement, injury, and just being fed up with the working conditions,” said MacManes.

Ramhoff, however, said administrators take pride in both their recruiting efforts and the care that patients receive.

“Desert Regional Medical Center continues to actively recruit nurses with very favorable wages and incentives,” he said. “We are pleased with our progress in bringing new nurses on board month after month.

“[We are] grateful for the compassionate care that our nurses provide for our patients. Our team is highly committed to providing safe, high-quality care to every patient who comes through our doors.”

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