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Nurses protest at HCA Largo Medical Center

Nurses and their supporters protest along West Bay Drive and 14th Street at the entrance to Largo Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon. About 350 nurses work at Largo Medical’s main and Indian Rocks campuses.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Nurses and their supporters protest along West Bay Drive and 14th Street at the entrance to Largo Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon. About 350 nurses work at Largo Medical’s main and Indian Rocks campuses.

LARGO — Nurses at Largo Medical Center went public Tuesday with their grievances, waving red and white signs in front of the hospital reading "safe staffing = better patient care."

Since January, Largo Medical Center nurses have filed almost 150 complaints with hospital managers and their relatively new union. Nurses can't refuse an assignment but can register objections, in this case mostly involving claims of inadequate staffing.

Many who float between hospital units also say they are asked to cover in areas for which they feel poorly prepared. "We have some patient safety concerns," Largo Medical nurse Julia Scott said.

About 350 nurses work at Largo Medical's main and Indian Rocks campuses, owned by the for-profit HCA hospital chain. Despite the blustery weather, the rally drew more than 50 protesters, mostly nurses at Largo Medical. It was the first such demonstration since Largo Medical nurses voted about a year ago to affiliate with the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida, part of the 170,000-member National Nurses United.

The nurses are asking the hospital to create a task force composed of bedside nurses to resolve patient care issues. Management has refused that request, prompting the protest, organizers said.

Largo Medical officials said the demonstration would not affect patient care, noting that they have been negotiating with the union since April over a nursing contract. "As bargaining moves ahead, we will continue to provide uninterrupted, high-quality health care to our patients and the community we serve," the hospital said in a statement.

The national union routinely organizes protests over staffing practices that members consider substandard. Last month, nurses picketed outside Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville to draw attention to what it called unsafe staffing levels.

Nurses from Oak Hill, Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg General and Community Hospital in New Port Richey — all HCA hospitals — joined the picket line to show camaraderie.

The protest comes just months after a Pinellas County physician filed a federal lawsuit against Largo Medical, which he says violated his civil rights.

Kidney specialist Dr. Abraham Awwad claims that Largo Medical's decision to revoke his staff privileges followed one of his complaints involving a patient who died when dialysis was not started on time. State inspectors responding to Awwad's complaints found serious deficiencies in Largo Medical's dialysis program, run by an outside vendor.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.

Nurses protest at HCA Largo Medical Center 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 9:54pm]
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