Workers at the mental health and opioid addiction treatment facility hold informational picket to advocate for better staffing, training.
Kingston, PA – Just a month after first raising public awareness about concerns in their hospital, dozens of registered nurses and mental health technicians at First Hospital of Wyoming Valley were joined by community supporters as they marched, chanted, and held signs demanding management do better for the patients entrusted in their care.
The healthcare workers are demanding more training and an investment in the workforce to build a more skilled, experienced staff.
“It is clear our message didn’t get through, so we will continue to advocate until it does,” said Tony Deluca, who has been a mental health tech for 19 years. “Wages are so low it’s hard to find people to work here, and we can’t keep them once they’re hired. Our patients can’t get the kind of care they need if half the workforce is new and inexperienced.”
First Hospital, a privately-owned, for-profit facility, provides addiction and mental health treatments for adults and children. Located in Luzerne County, which is facing one of the worst opioid crises in the nation, workers say current conditions are causing safety concerns and they worry patients may not be able to get proper care. Starting wages for hands-on mental health techs is just over $10/hour at First Hospital, compared to other local facilities where the average is $15/hour.
“This isn’t the kind of job that you can take people right off the street, train them for just a couple of days, and then expect them to be able to handle the challenges we face,” said Sarah Panttieri-Cipriano, an RN at the hospital who has 20 years of experience in the mental health field. She is concerned when the hospital hires very young people right out of school with no experience working with those suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Workers at First have been working with management to achieve a new contract since October and say management is not willing to make the changes needed to address the staffing issues.
“It’s frustrating,” said Sue Makara, a mental health tech at First. “There are very basic points we would like to see in our contract that would greatly improve patient care without costing (parent company) CHS money. Namely, keeping the most experienced staff on the unit where they know the protocol and patients best. These are my patients, I know what it takes to take care of them. Management needs to do what is right to make our hospital better.”
Over 240 nurses and other healthcare workers at First Hospital are part of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.