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Nurses, others hold information picket outside hospital

A group of Warren General Hospital employees held informational pickets on Friday.

The Warren General Hospital Professional Employees Association includes nurses, medical technologists, and social workers.

The union is in negotiations with the hospital.

“We are here to fight for our patients and the safe staffing that they need,” maternity nurse Charlene Fohrd, who is co-president of the association, said.

She said the union included more than 120 members before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently under 100.

With fewer members and sicker patients, the association is fighting against cuts to individual benefits, to help the hospital keep the nurses it has and recruit and retain new personnel.

“The proposals were to cut some of our benefits,” Fohrd said. “We’re here today to stand for those benefits. With the recent financial gains of the hospital, we feel we shouldn’t have to accept the cuts.”

Proposed cuts to 403b program matching contributions would result in losses of $2,250 per year for the members of the association, PASNAP Communications Specialist Megan Gorman said.

The cuts would not only impact those already working at the hospital, they would impact the hospital’s ability to recruit and retain new nurses, Fohrd said.

“Ultimately, we want better patient care for our community,” she said. “We really want to achieve that ‘world class patient care’ that (CEO) Rick Allen talks about. That’s truly his goal for our hospital. We want to stay on track with that goal. We feel that we won’t be able to attract and retain nurses with the cuts that they’re proposing.”

Emergency Room Nurse Heidi Leviere said the past two years have been, by far, the most challenging and stressful of her eight at the hospital.

“It’s been very challenging and trying — physically, emotionally, and financially,” Leviere said. “Cutting our 403 is not going to help.”

She said management and the union have made some strides in other areas of the negotiations, but not on the 403b nor staffing.

Asked of the picket, Allen declined immediate comment.

Joining members of the association were members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) and others who supported the effort.

There were over 20 picketers on site in the afternoon and a similar number present in the morning. There were close to 50 picketers at 5 p.m. The protest wrapped up at 6 p.m. after a little over 12 hours.

Altogether, about 100 different people, and about 60 members of the association marched at some point Friday. Union officials described the turnout of both association members and supporters as “amazing.”

“Adopting a shortsighted strategy, hospitals have tried to save money for decades by cutting nursing hours, endangering patients and forcing nurses out of hospitals and, at times, out of the profession,” according to Gorman. “The pandemic didn’t create these circumstances, but it greatly exacerbated them.”

“The nurses and healthcare workers that comprise the Warren General Hospital Professional Employees Association have been on the front lines of the COVID crisis for more than 18 months, sacrificing their own health and endangering their families to care for their community and keep the doors of the hospital open,” Gorman said. “Now, in bargaining for a new contract, hospital management has resisted the staff members’ calls to properly staff the hospital and include staffing grids in the new contract.”

“The hospital has refused to talk about the issue, going so far as emailing us, ‘We will not be making a staffing counter proposal at any time during these negotiations,'” she said. “Apparently, management believes everything is fine when it comes to staffing at Warren. This is unacceptable for patients and for caregivers.”

While hospitals, including Warren General, are reporting nurse shortages, “We don’t have a shortage of nurses, we have a shortage of nurses at the bedside,” according to Gorman. “According to data collected by the PA Department of Health, enrollment in Pennsylvania’s RN programs has increased by almost 50 percent in recent decades. But hospitals can’t retain nurses at the bedside under increasingly unsafe conditions.”

“When nurses are routinely required to care for more patients than is safe, it’s called chronic nurse short-staffing, and it is a crisis for both patients and nurses,” she said. “When nurses have too many patients, patients don’t get the care they need. It’s not safe.”

“The hospital must do more to prioritize patient safety and create an environment that encourages nurse and healthcare worker retention,” Gorman said.

She said the management proposal includes “a 2 percent across-the-board wage increase, even though inflation is now at 5.4 percent.”

Proposed cuts to 403b program contributions would result in losses of $2,250 per year for the members of the association, she said.

“Why is management demanding cuts to our contract when they are making a profit?” Gorman asked. “This is especially insulting because while the hospital is telling the union they can’t afford our retirement, the hospital’s financial records tell a very different story. In the records the hospital provided, the hospital made a healthy $6,000,000 in profit in 2020 and had over $72,000,000 in total assets.”

“In the first two months of their fiscal year 2021, the hospital has already generated $1.5 million in revenue,” Gorman said. “CEO Rick Allen was paid $537,599 in 2020. Yet they want to take away benefits from the dedicated caregivers at our hospital. This is not just unfair, these cuts could compound the staffing issues in the hospital, driving staff away from the beds.”

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