BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – For almost two decades, Daian Smith has cared for mothers and their babies at Kern Medical.

Smith, a Labor & Delivery Nurse, plans to walk off the job if hospital management doesn’t put a stop to issues that are causing the hospital to hemorrhage essential workers.

“I’ve known of nurses that have had to work 6 days straight to cover staffing shortages,” Smith said.  “There’s been days where it’s my days off and I get calls if I want to work today.”

Staffing shortages have caused great stress for healthcare workers, fueling strikes all over the nation.

Kern Medical has bought itself a little more time before dealing with a worker strike after workers have decided to hold off on walking off the job.

SEIU Local 521, the union that represents Kern Medical workers, has confirmed to 17 News that members will review and vote on Kern Medical’s last, best, and final offer that was made on Monday.

Workers and union organizers say workers at Kern Medical are 24.7% below wage parity for health care workers in our area, one of the reasons why they say Kern Medical has just a high turnover rate.

“Your patients are not getting the attention, the care that they need,” Smith said. “Those are the breaking points that make you reassess your values.”

Kern Medical’s governing board voted Wednesday in a telephone conference to approve a contract with Aya Healthcare Inc., which may not exceed $15 million, to outsource jobs that keep the hospital running.

“Can avert a strike,” Riko Mendez, SEIU 521’s Chief Elected Official, said. “We can avert a work stoppage, but it’ll take collaborating with us.” 

Meridian Healthcare Partners Inc. manages Kern Medical, Meridian’s Vice President Scott Thygerson gave input following Mendez’s public comment.

“It is apparent that this strike isn’t about wages,” Thygerson said. “We have an understanding of what that is, it is manageable with some difficulty but that is what we undertake In healthcare.”

Smith calls the decision “an insult” to workers like her who have served for years.

“The turnover in staffing is so severe,” Mendez said. “We have been forced to potentially walk the strike line, in order to stand up for patients of all walks of life.”

In a written statement Kern Medical “highly encourages” SEIU members to accept the best and final offer, adding that the governing board’s decision to outsource labor is meant to keep critical and necessary hospital and clinic services available.

“We care for our patients, we want to be there for our patients,” Smith said. “However if management continues to treat staff the way they do and violate workers’ rights, they’re going to be losing valuable staff and that is unfortunate.”

A section of the statement released by Kern Medical said:

“Kern Medical must be prepared for SEIU to strike. In anticipation of a strike, which we hope to avoid, the
hospital authority’s Board of Governors approved entering into a one-year agreement with Aya
Healthcare, Inc., to provide replacement workers if needed. The maximum payable amount of the
agreement is $15 million. We recognize this is a lot of money, but critical hospital and clinic services
must remain open and available to the public should a strike occur.
Kern Medical strongly encourages SEIU to accept our Last, Best, and Final Offer to give our employees
the much-needed wage increases they deserve.”