Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), representing over 700 registered nurses at St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, is holding a rally today to highlight issues critical to patient safety and nurse retention during difficult contract negotiations. Nurses at St. Joseph have been battling against elimination of their sick time and drastic benefit cuts. Nurses are concerned about patient safety and ensuring that St. Joseph can continue to recruit and retain great nurses.
The administration is resisting nurse input on patient care and staffing at the bedside, including WSNA’s proposal to add "acuity" to the contract staffing language. This language would encourage staffing levels to reflect not just the number of patients, but also the complexity and level of care they require. Management is also resistant to proposals that discourage the hospital from excessive use of on-call and to fill chronic staffing shortages.
“Nurses are the frontline of patient care. We need to feel like this hospital is a partner with us and values our skills and expertise. That means listening to nurses. On issues like staffing and sick time, our interest is in coming up with solutions that allow us to deliver excellent care to this community, ” said Sarah Newell, RN, a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital.
Nurses are concerned that sweeping changes to sick time would discourage nurses from staying home when they are sick. Management is seeking to eliminate the extended illness days that nurses currently accrue and replacing it with a third party insurance company that would offer short term disability. Nurses would be paid a fraction of their salary during this sick time and the insurance company would also have the right to deny their claims.
“When a premature baby is in the hospital or your grandmother is battling pneumonia, you want a healthy nurse at their bedside. It’s that simple. This administration should not be financially penalizing nurses by sending them to a 3rd party insurance company when they get sick. Nurses should be able to focus on getting better and getting back to work rather than worrying about whether they’ll be able to provide for their families if they have to take sick time. Sick time for nurses is essential to patient safety,” said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, WSNA Assistant Executive Director of Labor Relations.
Drastic cuts to benefits will potentially impact the hospital’s ability to recruit and retain great nurses. Management has proposed increases to both premiums and deductables, effectively lowering take home pay for nurses over the life the of the contract. These changes will also have a profound effect on many nurses and their ability to provide health care to themselves and their families.