Local 1000’s Lynn McDaniel is Leading the Fight for RNs at Pelican Bay State Prison
As an RN at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) in Crescent City, California, and a member of SEIU Local 1000, Lynn McDaniel’s work as a health care professional during the COVID pandemic would be difficult even under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, her situation, like that of all the healthcare providers at PBSP, has only gotten worse due to the current prison policies.
However, unwilling to let these risks go unaddressed, Lynn and her coworkers have fought back, leading efforts with the organizing team at Pelican Bay to address the major crises unfolding at the prison: the culture of fear and intimidation directed towards the medical staff, and the failure of management to respond to the COVID crisis, and chronic understaffing by management.
Despite PBSP’s desperate need for nurses, management’s failure to recruit new staff and the prison’s poor reputation within the county leave it chronically short-handed. Further exacerbating this issue is the fact that many nurses pass through PBSP but never stay, which makes it even harder to attract new recruits. “This is a small community and everybody knows about Pelican Bay’s medical department issues,” says Lynn. “Management blames it on there not being enough housing or that ‘nobody wants to live here,’ but that is totally false. Rentals are not plentiful but they’re available and this area is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever lived. Yet, retention is non-existent.” By refusing to accommodate the needs of healthcare workers, management is actively squeezing them out of their workplace.
In addition, some LVNs, who often want to get training to become Registered Nurses, are currently considering resigning so that they can further their education. “If that happens, what are the chances we’ll be able to get that person back?” asked Lynn. This has also contributed to the issues with providing care. As opportunities are denied and management’s culture of intimidation puts more employees at risk, the ability for nurses to do their jobs has become even more limited. “We try to lay low and do our jobs, but patient care is drastically affected,” said Lynn. “Things fall through the cracks, inmate grievances increase; there just isn’t enough time to provide professional care. That’s disturbing to the nurses that just want to take good care of their patients.”
Healthcare staff at PBSP now hold monthly JLMC meetings to raise issues and find solutions to the problems they face. However, this has yet to rectify the situation. “Although we have brought numerous issues to the table, we haven’t really had any solutions agreed upon by management.” Currently, the organizing team’s goal is for PBSP to offer a healthy, fair working environment with good supervision and to provide leadership training to staff. “We’re really not asking for a lot: to have adequate staff so we are not constantly overworked, not to have constant daily mandated OT, and to be able to request—and get—a day off.”
SEIU Local 1000 supports the organizing efforts Lynn is leading at Pelican Bay to solve the very real threats to her, her coworkers, and to the entire community in Crescent City.