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Arnold and the California Nurses

Thursday, 12 May 2005 12:00 AM

Does it matter how many other patients the nurse has to deal with? Yes. It is directly and inexorably related to how long it takes the nurse to respond. Half the time, you sit there because someone needs to be there – and the nurses have too much to do.

In California, the nurses supported legislation that established minimum staffing levels for hospitals, after a series of takeovers of community hospitals by for-profit chains led to cutbacks in staff. The legislation here is the first of its kind in the country and has been considered a national model. The new rules would limit RNs in medical-surgical units to five patients per one nurse.

Two days after the November election, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order suspending the new ratios, arguing that the state's hospitals couldn't afford it. The nurses brought suit, so far successfully, to quash the governor's order. In between, the nurses began protesting the governor's decision, including a decision to show up and protest at the governor's big Women's Conference last November in Long Beach.

The conference, which Maria Shriver's office put together, was a who's who of everyone. I was moderating a morning panel, and when I drove up, I was surprised to see a band of protesters outside the VIP parking lot. Who's protesting? I asked someone. Nurses, they told me.

Nurses are a terrible enemy to have. Almost as bad as firefighters ... Oprah was the lunch speaker. Arnold was going to introduce her. How could you lose at an event like this? Only by being caught in traffic. I, of course, had to get back in time to do pick-up at school, so I ducked out as the protesters were coming in and before lunch even got served.

This is what I missed: The nurses unfurled a banner that said, "Hands off our Ratios," an obvious and not-so-subtle reference to the last-minute charges of sexual harassment that were sprung on Arnold by the Los Angeles Times on the eve of the campaign (from which I defended him, by the way). Thus provoked – but that's why politicians get the big bucks – Arnold placed his foot squarely in his mouth and then bit hard: "Pay no attention," he told the audience. "The special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts. ..."

Kicking their butts? To a group of nurses? It is one thing to call legislators "girlie men." But promising to kick the butts of nurses is one of those claims that, as my mentor in politics taught me, is a promise to make only if you can be sure you won't miss.

The nurses have not let him alone since. It has not been pretty. Their leaders are good at this. Rose Ann DeMoro, who heads the union, has run about 40 events across the state, using the pretty straightforward argument that the real special interests are not the working men and women who take care of patients, but the hospitals, insurers and drug companies, all of whom have contributed extremely generously to Schwarzenegger.

A California Hospital Association spokeswoman is quoted in one report as describing the union under DeMoro as "impossible" to deal with, but the example she gave made me howl: In 2001, protesters burst into the association's offices in Sacramento and threatened to urinate on the carpet if they couldn't use the bathroom.

"We were astounded that professional nurses would do this," the spokeswoman says. Do what, I wondered. Need to urinate?

In their most effective commercial, a nurse says: "Our governor called nurses special interests after he stopped the new nurses' staffing law. But Schwarzenegger doesn't say a word about his own donations from the big drug and insurance companies: the real special interests that run Sacramento."

The governor is backing down on his latest proposals right and left, and has even, for the first time, actually reached a compromise with the Legislature on something. The problem is, he and the legislator involved had to go to his tent and smoke cigars to do it.

The Legislature is considering a smoking ban that would eliminate smoking in public places, including the tent the governor has erected behind his office for cigar smoking. In response, Arnold told Fox News last Sunday that he would continue smoking anyway. Not a very good message, and now he's got some doctors, mine included, pretty mad.

He's been seeing too much lung and throat cancer lately. He's also a former University of California regent, which doesn't help. Everyone Larry treats for cancer just stopped smoking, just a few weeks ago, they all tell him – cigars, too. His advice to Arnold is to stop smoking pronto, because if he ends up in a hospital, you never know what those nurses could do to his butt.



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Does it matter how many other patients the nurse has to deal with? Yes. It is directly and inexorably related to how long it takes the nurse to respond. Half the time, you sit there because someone needs to be there - and the nurses have too much to do. In California, the...
Thursday, 12 May 2005 12:00 AM
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