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Dozens of nurses across Orange County picketed Wednesday morning to protest the deteriorating conditions inside local hospitals as the exploding coronavirus infection rate has stretched medical staffing increasingly thin.

Registered nurses held informational pickets outside four O.C. hospitals to call for more staffing and object to the recent waivers on safe staffing standards that the acute care hospitals have received, according to a news release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

Nurses lined the sidewalk in front of the South Coast Global Medical Center in Anaheim, holding signs that read “Nurses are not disposable” and “Patients and nurses before profit,” among other slogans.

Concerns over staffing levels led Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials to start allowing hospitals to apply for temporary waivers to circumvent California’s landmark state staffing law, allowing them to exceed mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. But acute care hospitals could only pursue them when they’re seeing a COVID-19 surge or staffing shortages due to the pandemic. 

The nurses picketing Wednesday are accusing the Orange County hospitals of using the pandemic to cut corners and save money, and in turn, coronavirus patients are facing even longer wait times. 

“We are getting slaughtered in the ER. We literally had to do a blood transfusion in the hallway. Ambulances are just leaving their patients in the ER because they are waiting too long for a bed, I don’t even know how we can sustain this”, Rasha Tran, a registered nurse at West Anaheim Medical Center, said in a written statement. “We still do not have the proper PPE so the increase in patients only means increased risk for RNs just when we need them the very most.”

As of Tuesday, Orange County’s ICU bed availability remained at zero in the adjusted metric, and dropped to 7.5% in the unadjusted category. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

Nurses are urging hospitals to cut back on elective surgeries so they can focus more on coronavirus patients. They are also asking state health officials to stop granting staffing waivers which increases the number of patients a nurse can be assigned to.

Joseph Ho, a registered nurse at Anaheim Global Medical Center, said hospital management should be making beds available by canceling elective surgeries.

“Nurses are bearing incredible pressure to care for the patients due to the crisis … Save those beds those who most need them and at the same time give the RNs a chance to truly care for these patients by not forcing nurses to take patients that don’t need a hospital right now,” Ho said. “The public needs to know that the hospitals are not doing everything they can to help the nurses care for patients.”

California is the only state in the country with mandated nurse-to-patient ratios at acute care hospitals. The state’s hospital industry fought for years to block the landmark safe staffing law, and then tried to overturn it, according to the California Nurses Association.