Registered Nurses at Moses Taylor Hospital and Registered Nurses, Mental Health Technicians, and other health care workers at First Hospital held a one-day strike on April 25th in response to more than a dozen unproductive negotiation sessions with Community Health Systems (CHS) that failed to make sufficient progress in key areas such as staffing, safety, training, and pay and healthcare to recruit and retain employees.
Nurses and other health care workers at Moses Taylor Hospital and First Hospital have been operating under expired union contracts since last year. Low staffing, employee retention, safety, and the floating of nurses between hospital units have been the key concerns in contract negotiations. Mental Health Technicians and other workers at First Hospital are also striking to protest the company’s illegal implementation of its final contract offer.
“For months, my coworkers and I have tried to work with CHS to address understaffing, patient care, and nurse retention, but they’ve ignored our concerns and left us with a contract offer that we cannot accept,” said Cat Cooney, a registered nurse at Moses Taylor Hospital. “We don’t want to strike, but as nurses, it’s our duty to stand up for patients. CHS is putting their profits before our patients, and we can’t sit by any longer. We’d rather be caring for our patients working, but we can’t do our jobs until CHS does theirs. CHS needs to know that we’ll do whatever it takes to improve care for our patients.”
Tennessee-based for-profit Community Health Systems has purchased several Northeast Pennsylvania hospitals in recent years. Nearly 300 nurses at Moses Taylor Hospital have been working under an expired contract since December 31, with roughly 90 nurses and 100 technical and clerical workers also working under expired contracts at First Hospital. All of the nurses and other striking workers are members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.
“Our patients deserve the highest quality of care,” said Judy Lee, a registered nurse at Moses Taylor Hospital. “When we are pulled from one unit of the hospital to the next, we are forced to leave the units and patient care protocols that we know best as professionals. This practice risks exposing our patients to dangerous infections and raises serious concerns about patient care.”
“Making the decision to strike was hard, but as a Mental Health Technician, I knew I had to take a stand for my patients,” said Abby Casey who works at First Hospital. “Proper safety and staffing is critical in any facility, but in a psychiatric hospital, it is absolutely vital. My patients deserve safe staffing limits and trained, experienced professionals. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“We didn’t want to strike, but we had to send a message to Commonwealth Health that our community deserve the highest quality of care, and we deserve fair contracts so we can recruit and retain good nurses,” said Sarah Panattieri-Cipriano, RN at First Hospital. “We chose to only do a one day strike to minimize the disruption to our patients. It’s disrespectful and a shame that now CHS is choosing to drag this out.”
“It is outrageous that CHS is going to continue using temporary staff when there are hundreds of nurses standing right outside their doors who know these hospitals, this community, and these patients,” said Mary Bachak, RN in the OR at Moses Taylor Hospital.
CHS’s decision to use a staffing agency angers the union nurses who have been told in negotiations that they must pay more for healthcare and that the hospital sees no need to change staffing practices that many nurses feel are leading to burnout and turnover.
“CHS has shown no interest in working with us to improve staffing, yet they can needlessly waste money on temps,” said LA Yarbrough, RN in Mom and Baby at Moses Taylor. “This a perfect example of CHS’s misplaced priorities – wasting money rather than investing in the future of healthcare for NEPA.”
Other area nurses employed by CHS also showed their support for the strike and lockout.
“It is unacceptable for CHS to disrespect those who care for their patients day in and day out by locking them out of their hospital. Those workers are standing to assure that there is enough staff to safely care for every patient that comes into their facility. CHS would be better served putting the resources into correcting the staffing crisis at the hospitals that the nurses are fighting for instead of spending it on temporary nurses who are not familiar with our facilities or our patients,” said Elaine Weale, RN, president of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association.
The union nurses at Wilkes Barre General Hospital, members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) held an informational picket on April 26th in solidarity with nurses at Moses Taylor and First, who joined them for the event.