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HAYWARD, Calif. _ Faces drawn from fatigue, eyes droopy, swollen and red, the 50 registered nurses gathered in the sparse meeting room, coffee cups tipped for yet another caffeine rush.
They came to share stories and console each other about how their critically ill patients are all too often victims of substandard nursing care, resulting in unnecessary pain or injury.
"I feel so guilty," said a newly hired nurse in her early 30s, lowering her head and closing her eyes. "We're so short-staffed. Every time I go home I wonder if someone is going to die because I wasn't there."
The nurses at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center talked of being so overwhelmed they delivered too much medicine to patients. They complained that care was delayed to gurney-bound patients wheeled into hallways instead of rooms because too few nurses were on duty.
"What should we do?" a veteran nurse asked Kay McVay, president of the California Nurses Association, one of the nation's most aggressive nurses' unions.
McVay told the anxious nurses to create a daily report of every case of bad or delayed care linked to insufficient staffing levels. "We'll take your experiences to the public," she concluded.
Besieged by inadequate staffing, nurses are increasingly pushing their calls for reform into the public spotlight. From raucous street rallies to private meetings, the primarily female nursing profession is circumventing a code of silence that, in some hospitals, still …