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STRIKE NOTICE ISSUED BY HOSPITAL WORKERS

Times Observer file photo by Brian Ferry Members of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Affiliated Professionals (PASNAP) — which represents nurses, social workers, and medical technologists at Warren General Hospital — and supporters participate in a picket outside the hospital on Friday, Oct. 15. Members of the hospital’s negotiating team have taken exception to some of the statements made by union officials.

The Warren General Hospital caregivers have submitted their 10-day strike notice Saturday, signaling their willingness to walk out to protect their patients and their professions.

“It’s well past time for Warren General management to show some leadership — to do the right thing for their patients and their staff,” says Rose Colucci, R.N., who has been a nurse at Warren General for 36 years. “I hope the strike notice is a wake-up call for them.”

In a news release issued Saturday, the 114 frontline nurses and health-care workers who make up the Warren General Hospital Professional Employees Association (PEA) noted they have been on the front lines of the COVID crisis for more than 18 months, “willingly sacrificing their own health and endangering their families to care for the Warren community and keep the doors of the hospital open.

“Yet in bargaining with PEA for a new contract, hospital management has ignored calls to prioritize quality patient care and include staffing guidelines in the PEA contract, even though research has proven safe staffing saves patient lives and reduces caregiver burnout. At the same time, the hospital has persisted in trying to cut the caregivers’ retirement funding, a move that could compound the staffing issues in the hospital, driving staff away from the bedside,” the news release stated.

The National Labor Relations Act requires all labor organizations to give healthcare employers a minimum of 10 days’ notice before a strike to ensure the safety of the patients within the facility.

“Safe staffing is always a quality of care issue,” says PASNAP President Maureen May, R.N. “But this is especially true during a pandemic, when patient volumes are high and every community member is a potential patient.”

Rick Allen, Warren General Hospital chief executive officer, was “disappointed and shocked” by the union announcement Saturday.

“I am deeply disappointed and shocked that the members of the PASNSP union have chosen to harm our community hospital and negatively affect delivery of patient care through a strike,” he said in an email to the Times Observer. “The negotiating committees have agreed on almost all aspects of a new contract including significantly increased salary, benefits and language regarding staffing guidelines. By any measure our current offer is extremely generous.

“I am confident any remaining issues can and will be resolved quickly however the Hospital is prepared with appropriate plans should the PASNAP members walk out. We will do our very best to limit disruption of care to our community residents. Warren General Hospital is a safe and high quality community hospital.”

In October, Warren General Hospital spoke of its efforts to reach an agreement. “We love our nurses,” the hospital’s negotiating committee’s lead negotiator Mark Kuhar said. “We value our nurses. They’re professional.”

“This place closes if we don’t have fantastic, hard-working nurses,” he said.

At that time, the hospital’s negotiating team was disappointed in how the negotiations have been publicly portrayed, especially by union representatives from far outside the Warren community.

“For them to take the position in the paper and characterize us that we’re not being fair to them economically and it’s all about patient care, it’s nothing but a money grab by people who are extremely well compensated,” Kuhar said. “This is the best package any hospital employer has offered any group of nurses within 10 years within 80 miles of here.”

Here is the proposal from October put forth by the hospital:

Hospital team address picket, concerns from union

The news release by the union Saturday stated an independent evaluator of care in hospitals agrees that Warren General desperately needs more nurses. Twice a year, the Leapfrog Group uses more than 30 national performance measures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plus additional data to assign nearly 3,000 acute adult-care hospitals across the U.S. a letter grade (A through F), representing a hospital’s overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical errors. Leapfrog published their Fall 2021 Hospital Safety Grades just last month. Warren General received a “D,” partially due to not having “enough qualified nurses” and not having “effective leadership to prevent errors.”

According to data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, enrollment in the commonwealth’s R.N. programs has increased by almost 50 percent in recent decades. But hospitals can’t retain nurses at the bedside under increasingly unsafe conditions.

For more information on safe staffing, Warren General Hospital’s finances, and more, check out www.warrencuts.com, which the caregivers themselves launched last month to alert the community to what’s going on inside their hospital.

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