LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Some nurses fear that patients are being put in danger by a nursing shortage in emergency and critical care wards, the Los Angeles Times reported.

``A lot of times, the patient sits in the room and isn't seen,'' said a nurse at St. Vincent Medical Center who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``People are not monitored as well. ... Somebody could be lying in bed unconscious and nobody sees that because they're doing something else.''

At one hospital, intensive care unit nurses were assigned three patients even though the law limits the ICU patient load to two, the Times reported Friday.

Hospital officials deny that patients are in danger.

At Cedars-Sinai Hospital, nurses have been working extra shifts but staffing has been sufficient, said Linda Burnes-Bolton, chief nursing officer. James Lott, senior vice president of the Healthcare Association of Southern California, said he hasn't seen evidence that legal staffing requirements have been violated.

Nursing and officials blame shortages on a combination of managed care cutbacks in the early 1990s, retirements of an aging nursing staff, fewer specialty nurses and a flu epidemic that has flooded hospitals with patients.

Doloras Jones, divisional director of nursing for Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest health maintenance organization, said the cutbacks came because there were fewer inpatients. She added that Kaiser now is filling 600 vacant registered nursing positions.

It is not known exactly how many nurses are needed because the industry is always changing, depending on factors such as flu epidemics, said Kit Costello, president of the California Nurses Association. But, she added, hospitals were not ready for this winter's flu season.

In Northern California, the California Nurses Association has asked Gov. Pete Wilson to declare an ``emergency care crisis'' prohibiting acute care and emergency room closures and further layoffs there.

A Wilson spokeswoman said the governor's office was monitoring the situation.