Palomar Health

Nurses Angered Over Palomar Health's Effort to Change ICU Patient-to-Nurse Staffing Ratio

Nurses at Palomar Medical Center Poway voiced concern Friday as COVID-19 cases surge.

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A small group of nurses staged a protest in front of Palomar Medical Center in Poway on Friday, expressing concern about Palomar Health’s effort to change the ICU patient-to-nurse staffing ratio.

The current state-mandated ICU ratio is two patients for each nurse. But Palomar Health applied for -- and was granted -- a waiver at their hospitals to increase that ratio to 3-1.

Nurses at Palomar Health’s Poway campus rallied this morning to voice their disagreement with how the medical facility is handling its nurse-patient ratio.

Diane Hansen, the president and CEO of Palomar Health, which operates the Palomar Medical Center hospitals in Escondido and Poway, said it followed proper state regulatory guidelines for the waiver, the change was made without input from the California Nurses Association.

“They took it upon themselves -- without even considering the nurses or even talking to the nurses about it -- and changed our ratios to 3-to-1 in the ICU taking care of COVID patients,” ICU nurse Joanne Meza told NBC 7.

Meza has been an ICU nurse for 13 years and said the ratio changes put caregivers, patients and the community at risk.

“Nurses want to give the best care possible," Meza said. "But Palomar Health is not providing a safe environment with resources needed to do so. This puts patients at a much higher risk for error.”

Hansen said the decision was made in light of a potential surge in patients. She said the ratio change has not been put into place and would only impact one 12-bed ICU at Palomar Medical Center, in Poway.

"We are just doing what we have to do in order to be prepared [in case] we should get into a situation where we're short on staff, because we've had a significant number of nurses who've come down with the virus," Hansen said.

Meza is concerned, however, that the change would threaten the safety of nurses, who she says are having to care for COVID and non-COVID patients at the same time.

“It’s the nurses and caregivers who are taking the hit in the form of unfair patient loads, unsafe staffing levels and inadequate PPE,” Meza said.

Hansen said that Palomar Health is doing everything it can to keep everyone safe.

“From patients to staff to physicians, we are doing everything we possibly can,” Hansen said.

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