A fair deal for the city's nurses


For San Francisco’s public-sector registered nurses, this year’s Nurse’s Week was a paradox. On May 10, nurses from throughout the city gathered in the cafeteria of San Francisco General Hospital to celebrate Florence Nightingale’s birthday by bestowing gratitude and appreciation on nurses selected by their colleagues. Martha Hawthorne, long-time Castro-Mission Health Center public health nurse, was one of those honored. 

Upon acceptance of the award, Martha said that city nurses would be most appropriately honored by getting a fair contract. The next day a smaller gathering of nurses, including Martha, was back across the bargaining table from city negotiators who have proposed  significant financial and working condition concessions. Decreased compensation threatens the future of nursing in the public sector by impairing recruitment and retention of highly-skilled registered nurses. Working conditions concessions are even more broadly harmful and unacceptable; it is both risky for the nurses and increases the likelihood of adverse outcomes for those we care for.

San Francisco DPH nurses care for the city, quite literally, and with great pride. We are also proud of San Francisco’s historically progressive record on public health. Immigrant pregnant mothers are not interrogated by immigration authorities before giving birth. Public health nurses don’t require insurance company pre-authorized visits before teaching self-care to elderly residents of downtown SROs. The quality of care given by Jail Health nurses is no less than that given to someone living in a nice house by the city’s home health nurses of Health-at-Home. Laguna Honda, one of the last municipal long-term care centers, has a beautiful new campus and San Francisco General Hospital is being noisily rebuilt thanks to voter-approved bond measures. But nice buildings and well-conceived health programs don’t care for the ill and injured, nurses do.

Nurses are professionally pragmatic; we don’t offer false hope. Patient advocacy requires great patience. This is especially true in the public sector, where the population we serve is likely to suffer from intractable extreme poverty and social marginalization. The poor don’t require less health care than wealthy individuals, in fact they require more. It’s not always pretty, but we know that if we are given the human resources to do so we will continue to deliver excellent patient care.

The complexity and intensity of patient care seems to be rising far faster than inflation. Aside from the issues of fairness and quality care, nurses simply don’t have enough hours in the day to do the repair our over-burdened fractured health system requires. Activist nurses are needed to save lives by preserving and expanding health care access. While universal single-payer health-care is elusive nationally, California nurses are optimistic we can do better here. Women’s health is under attack nationally by fanatics who would deny cancer screening and care for rape survivors.

Nurse’s Week is over and we have a lot to do, let’s start with a fair deal for DPH nurses. It's not to much to ask for and we will all benefit.

Sasha Cuttler, RN, is a San Francisco public health nurse.


Nurses working for the City are some of the highest paid workers in town. Matier & Ross ran an article last year stating that 10 of them made over $250,000 and 4 of them made over $300,000. Are you really worried about "recruitment and retention" with those kinds of salaries? They are making more than doctors.


Posted by The Commish on May. 13, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

SF nurses average salary and benefit costs are frankly, never reported. The SF average wage is higher than the average wage of a SF firefighter, but of course more garden variety union bs- they want you to think they are worried about retention...

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

People who decry the high salaries of some nurses in the DPH are revealing only their ignorance of nursing and the structure of healthcare. The CEO of SF General is a nurse. As is the Chief Nursing Officer, or multiple directors who are each responsible for hundres or thousands of employees and millions of dollars in departmental budgets. Of COURSE they make more than some doctors; they are highly skilled executives who in any other industry would be making far more. The average RN taking care of a patient makes far less, and, more importantly, they make less compared to other hospitals.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

Jason Grant Garza here ... would the CEO of SF GENERAL be Gene O'Connell ... the same that didn't KNOW EMTALA law when I sued the city for denial of emergency services? Would that be the same Gene O'Connell that signed a settlement agreement on 4/19/07 admitting fault and guilt for having BROKEN FEDERAL LAW against me? Would this be the O'Connell that during the FEDERAL COURT case (2003) (c02-3485PJH) did NOT check or verify the FALSE and INJURIOUS testimony by one of her nurses that caused the case to be dismissed in contrary to my DUE PROCESS? Would this be the O'Connell that left the INNOCENT VINDICATED VICTIM for DEAD with NO REMEDY, NO HOPE and NO JUSTICE?

Type my name into a google search engine and read ... will O'Connell retire and live the GOOD LIFE while having NOT "KEPT me from HARM and INJUSTICE?" Do I NOT deserve life or the freedom ...

My I even have a case against DPH for NOT providing CORRECT INFORMATION as to who accredits them (see case # 11099) and the result from the City's Shill (SUNSHINE TASK FORCE - MINISTRY of SUNSHINE.) You could even look into case # 11081 where I was denied my MEDICAL RECORDS based on INCORRECT city attorney advise. Do you REALLY think the MINISTRY found them GUILTY or sent them to ETHICS?

NO, the MINISTRY did what the city did when it had my case illegally dismissed with TESTILYING ... trying to end and close the case without JUSTICE, CORRECT PROCESS or ACCOUNTABILITY.

So who is really IGNORANT here if the TRUTH holds NO ACCOUNTABILITY ... I KNOW O'Connell to this DAY has NOT shown CONTRITION nor HUMANITY when it comes to me and the TRUTH of my case and what it means. Go ahead type my name into a google search engine ... there you will read another article regarding SF GENERAL entitled "Smoke Pours Into Hallways at SF General" and my comment dated March 23, 2008 ... mind you 2008 ... in which I said " ason Grant Garza here ... well at least we found the smoke ... NOW, let me show you the mirrors in this institution that espouses compassion, care and dignity, This is all the mirrors of how this hospital operates. What do I mean by this ... type my name into a google search engine and read how the hospital BROKE THE LAW and I now have a copy of a settlement agreement admitting fault and guilt; yet, no restitution, no remedy, no making me "whole." This settlement took me years to achieve even after telling all ... Medicare, the federal court system and the hospital of their LAW BREAKING ACTIVITY. The mirrors also involves all the false speech and false illusion of compassion and caring. If they really cared, they would pay for their damages, etc; however, if you are protected by the government ... apparently even after a signed confession ... no contrition, no humanity and certainly no morality about following the law applies. Don't believe me ... type my name into google and read ...Read how I have been left to die, read how I took on a corrupt system, read how I thought after winning tings would be better and read what your treatment will be since there is no accountability. Lots of smoke and mirrors ... please don't ask me as the living DEAD who my doctor was, how I told him about the illegalities and how I was abandoned. THIS IS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE THE LIVING DEAD AND HAVING WALKED THRU THE MIRROR. Just remember ... you are NEXT!!! "

Any more questions as to why it doesn't matter ... why YOU don't matter and why this is a FLUFF piece ... I mean for such high salaries ... IS THERE NO INTEGRITY? I can show you the paperwork I received from Ms. O'Connell ... please look forward to a book for free on the website MYOWNPRIVATEGUANTANAMO.com that will list and show with their OWN paperwork and LETTERHEAD ... it will include my arrest record and their confession for a crime that I was arrested for (never having been arrested before in my entire life.) Any more questions as to the INHUMANITY and GAME PLAYING ??? Remember ... YOU ARE NEXT. ... they DO NOT CARE ... their FALSE WORDS are belied by their HARMFUL UNACCOUNTABLE NON-CONTRITIOUS ACTIONS ...

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on May. 14, 2012 @ 7:28 am

Maybe you should call Matier & Ross and tell them the ten nurses they cited gaming the system for $250k plus were each supervising "thousands of employees" - they'll probably get a good laugh...

You should be thankful nurse's salary and benefit costs in detail are never reported. We know making health care unaffordable for middle-class folks is something you wear as a badge of honor. If you're not digging up old housekeepers for the purposes extorting every last dollar out of taxpayers, there's another scheme in the works.

"...they are highly skilled executives who in any other industry would be making far more."

Thanks for this garden-variety union tripe. Yes, of course - there are tons of private employers paying 30 cents on the wage dollar (City) in pension benefits. The word is not "ignorance" you're searching for - it's greed.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2012 @ 7:51 am

Run a search on SFGate's database for city employees who make more than $100,000. There are a substantial number of nurses who are some of the highest paid employees in the City. It's not just a few "executive" nurses.

Posted by The Commish on May. 14, 2012 @ 9:39 am

18 billion dollars in the hole and all u think of if raising salaries. How far out of touch with reality can the author of this article. How are we going to pay for it? I seriously believe this is irresponsible journalism. Was planning to move to California but am having second thoughts because of the financial problems.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2012 @ 3:19 am

The ignorance of the nursing profession by some of the comments here is astounding. There are nurse administrators, nurse managers, nurse practitioners, nurse anthethetists, nurse mid-wives, nurses in critical care, emergency, labor and delivery, med-surge, oncology and public health nurses. They require a license to practice and special one to prescribe medication, continuing eduction every two years to maintain that license, credentialing like MD's through the city and county, malpractice insurance, board certification if you are an NP and advanced degrees if you are an NP, CNM's and PHD if you do nursing research and wish to teach at the University level. Most of us, myself included, precept the next generation of nurses who will care for patients. Matier and Ross merely put out a number that barely scratch the surface as to who commands the big salaries and why.
As a group, nurses are by far the largest group of health care professionals in the nation dwarfing MD's, social workers, physical therapists etc. Many nurses, nation-wide, are joining unions not only to earn a better salary (we use to earn less than grocery clerks) but to protect and defend our practice. To be a nurse requires that an individual be smart, flexible and maintain the compassion of saint or at the very least a nun. Our origins are the Knight Templars of the middle ages and orders of nuns who ran places like the Hotel Dieu in Paris. When we become a nurse, most take a modern version of the Nightengale oath which binds us to our patients as their advocates. We are no longer the doctor's hand maiden and practice under our own license and independent Board.

We have a great responsibility in taking care of you. Your life is in our hands on daily basis. Nurses in the city and county earn a decent salary commersirate with our expertise, length of time in practice and the responsibility we have in taking care of practice.

I would also say, that our profession can be dangerous, physically and emotionally draining but immensely rewarding. We work 7 days a week, holidays, weekends, grave-yards and in communities that need us. When a earth quake hits, we will be your first responders and may save your life, your kids life or someone you care about. I know, I was on the 11 th floor of UCSF as a nurse and worked 24 hours straight in 89 to cover two shifts when someone couldn't make it in.

For people who think we earn too much, what's too much for a profession that demands so much? Do you think our mayor should get so much or the supervisors?

We seem to have the money to afford yacht races and give aways to corporations whose CEO's dwarf any nurses' salary.

Posted by Guest lucretiamott on May. 15, 2012 @ 8:36 am

Nice sympathy piece. I'm sure nurses work hard. They are also overpaid. I don't care if they're overpaid in the private sector. In the public sector, however, taxpayers are footing the bill. With those salaries, nurses working for the city are the 1%, or very close to it.

Posted by The Commish on May. 15, 2012 @ 8:54 am
Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2012 @ 9:05 am

Thank you Lucy.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2012 @ 10:45 am

It should be noted that the RNs did not go into bargaining with the City asking for a raise.

Posted by Sasha Cuttler on May. 17, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

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