Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 7, 2004

A few overlooked stories

One of the perks of writing a weekly column is the chance to highlight news stories that might not have gotten the attention or play they deserved. Here are a few “minor” stories that caught my eye recently.

***

I was glad to see that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian upheld a law that requires hospitals to maintain state-mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at all times, even when nurses are on break.

My family has spent more that its fair share of time in hospitals, and I can tell you that nurses do the vast majority of work with patients. If nurses aren’t available, patients suffer.

Jan Emerson, a spokesman for the California Healthcare Association, a hospital lobbying group that opposed the law, attempted the ultimate counter-intuitive spin when she called the staffing ratios “not good for patient care.” Emerson pooh-poohed the staffing law, saying “the requirement to reassign patients to substitute nurses any time their assigned nurses take a phone call, go to the bathroom or are on a break … it’s very disruptive – you get nurses who don’t know the patient.”

Take it from someone who’s been there. It’s more disruptive to need a nurse and not have one available than it is to have an unfamiliar face appear when a nurse is called.

The nurse staffing law is a good one. It was sponsored by the California Nurses Association, the largest nurses union in the state, which probably means many people – some regular Dispatch letter-to-the-editor-writers spring to mind – will automatically oppose the ratios.

I suspect a short stay in a short-staffed hospital would change their minds.

***

Did you notice the announcement that United Technology Corp. will close its 5,400-acre site on Metcalf Road that produces solid rocket fuel sometime in 2005? The plant, which employs 600 people, many of whom live in South Valley, suffered a fire and explosion resulting in injury and death in 2003, reporter Carol Holzgrafe noted, that contributed to the decision to close the plant located in unincorporated Santa Clara County north of Morgan Hill.

The plant’s 800 employees can transfer to a UTC facility in Florida that produces liquid rocket fuel, a spokesman said, or can take advantage of outplacement services designed to help them find new jobs.

The decision to move cross-country might be difficult from an emotional perspective, but from a cold, hard fiscal angle, Florida would seem awfully enticing. UTC employees would be relocating to a place with guaranteed jobs, which are still hard-to-find in Silicon Valley, and a much lower cost of living.

And, although it does have occasionally stifling humidity, Florida meets one of my minimum requirements: No nasty winters.

Best of luck to all those soon-to-be out-of-work UTC employees, whatever they decide.

***

State auditors who reviewed the Morgan Hill Unified School District’s books found negligence but not fraud after taking a long, close look at the district’s over-budget construction projects.

That’s not too surprising. Most of the people I talk to about the district’s current sorry state believe that mismanagement, not criminal or illegal activity, is at the root of the district’s fiscal woes.

But it’s a small comfort. Whether the cause is bad decision making or fraud, the bottom line for taxpayers is that we’ve paid more than we should have for construction projects.

That’s just one of the reasons the frustration level among MHUSD voters has risen to the point that recall petitions were circulated targeting four trustees, that school board meetings are frequently acrimonious and tension-filled, and that many report that employee morale is low.

Four MHUSD trustee seats without incumbents will be up for grabs when elections are held this fall. Gilroyans will elect three school board members.

But Morgan Hill is not alone when it comes to school district strife. In Gilroy, turmoil over reading lists, controversial teacher firings and long-term strategic goal setting are just a few of the issues that should make for an interesting school board election.

Of course, both districts will continue to grapple with budget shortfalls and layoffs brought on by the state’s chronic budget crisis.

Both the Morgan Hill Unified School District, which stretches from San Martin to South San Jose, and the GUSD desperately need qualified, committed, articulate, open-minded and thick-skinned candidates willing to serve on the school board.

The filing period opens July 12 for candidates and will run until at least Aug. 6. If you’ve got the dedication and the temperament to be an effective school board member who has student education as your top priority, I urge you to consider throwing your hat into the ring.

Now’s the time to organize begin the process of organizing a campaign, to think about fundraising and to articulate your priorities and message.

Voters need a variety of good candidates from which to choose in the upcoming election, one that could be pivotal in putting the turmoil of recent years behind us

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