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Union Workers Advocate For, Win COVID-19 Safety Standards in PA Hospitals

While healthcare workers have been on the frontlines of COVID-19, too many hospital employers have failed to implement any kind of consistent best practices or safety standards in their facilities. That failure has put us all — workers, patients, and the community — at risk.

But our union members have spoken out, sounded the alarm, and refused to be silent. And now, because of our advocacy, there is action.

Gov. Wolf and the PA Dept. of Health have issued an executive order to establish safety standards in all PA hospitals. They committed to work with nurses and other hospital workers to enforce this order to hospitals that are not compliant.

This order went into effect Monday, June 15, and dictates that:

  • Hospitals notify all staff of any COVID-19 exposure within 24 hours.
  • All exposed staff have access to training.
  • All exposed staff can quarantine if they need or choose to.
  • All staff who interact with suspected or positive COVID-19 patients have access to a NIOSH-approved mask and that it be replaced as soon as possible if the healthcare professional deems it to be damaged, soiled, or otherwise ineffective.
  • Every staff member, visitor, and patient be masked upon entering.

If a worker’s mask is soiled, damaged, or ineffective, they can tell their supervisor or hospital admin a new one is needed. They are required to replace it based on the worker’s assessment.

This is a tremendous victory that shows the power healthcare workers have when we lead!

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NEPA Healthcare Workers, Advocates, and Officials Convene Round Table on Future of Healthcare in Their Region

NEPA Roundtable 1

The group drew a large audience to discuss the growing healthcare staffing crisis, the state of healthcare delivery and transformation, and steps to improve staffing and delivery

Taylor, Pa — Amid mounting concern over hospital care in the region, healthcare workers and advocates from across the region gathered together on Thursday to discuss the growing healthcare delivery crisis in Northeast PA.

“Our round table discussion on health care issues facing NEPA revealed fears people face on the future delivery of health care needs,” said panelist State Rep. Bridget Malloy Koswierski, RN. “We listened to both consumers and providers. We must have a plan in place for our aging population here in Pennsylvania to ensure we have adequate staffing, safe environment and quality health care available and affordable.”

“We are committed to continue this discussion and come up with pragmatic solutions, continued Koswierski. “My thanks to the panel and the SEIU for providing the opportunity for the discussion.”

Bringing this group together was significant. Hospitals are key community assets in NEPA that play a large role in our region’s health and economy. Northeast PA is home to 15 acute care hospitals worth $2.5 billion, where 11,000 caregivers treat 100,000 people each year. Together, these hospitals own assets worth more than $2.5 billion and employ 11,000 people.  

Joining State Rep. Kosierowski to weigh in on this growing care crisis were SEIU Healthcare PA members Jesi Swoboda, RN, and Tami Pease, RN; Teresa Osborne, State Civil Service Commission; Nancy Brown, West Side Active Older Adult Community Center; Marlee Lemoncelli Stefanelli, Action Together Healthcare Committee Person; and Susan Coble, State Deputy Secretary Quality Assurance. The group discussed the ways that providers can collaborate with healthcare advocates to improve patient care outcomes and the ways the broader NEPA community can collaborate on dynamic solutions to improve care in the region.

NEPA’s hospitals take in billions in Medicare, Medicaid, and Veteran’s Administration dollars, as well as costly commercial insurance. Many of these hospitals were built with workers’ and churches’ charitable contributions.

But many at the meeting expressed that, in recent years, they feel healthcare has become more of a big business and less of a caring mission.

NEPA ROundtable Jesi“Some of our hospitals are owned by big for-profit chains,” said Jesi Swoboda, RN, from Peckville. “What does that mean for patients? I think they’re answering to shareholders in New York, not patients in Scranton.”

Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne counties are all suffering from a lower than state averages level of primary care physicians, dentists, and mental care professionals. The same counties all suffer from higher than national and state average rates of death as a result of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are all contributing to this healthcare crisis in North East PA.

High hospital owner turnover and infrastructure issues, such as a lack of investment in medical equipment and insufficient training of workers, were both identified as key roots to this continuing regional healthcare crisis.

“When equipment is outdated it’s not as efficient as newer equipment would be, so it slows down the time it takes to do tests and x-rays,” said Swoboda, speaking to the importance of these investments in hospital infrastructure.

Potential solutions to these core issues discussed at Thursday night’s round table include asking hospital executives to pledge to not sell facilities to companies with a record of denying access to people with the “wrong” insurance unless there is a binding promise to maintain access for all. There must be a clear commitment to investing in and upgrading hospital equipment and staff training alike in order to improve the quality of care in NEPA.

NEOA Roundtable CatThe panel also discussed working with local officials, the healthcare workers’ unions, consumer advocacy organizations, and each other to improve our community’s health status by promoting quality primary and preventative care and by seeking to eliminate health disparities.

NEPA is resilient and we know our hospitals can thrive, grow, and succeed to provide exceptional care, good jobs, and healthy communities. That’s why we are calling upon hospital executives, elected leaders and ourselves work together to make sure that every patient has access to affordable, high-quality care, and that every caregiver has a rewarding, family-sustaining job.

This initial conversation is part of a broader movement to address the patient care and staffing crisis across Pennsylvania, a movement advocating for deliberate, dedicated change across the region.  

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Nurses Join Legislators to Introduce Safe Patient Limit Bills to Save Lives

Nurses say the law, championed by nurse and legislator State Sen. Marie Collett, RN, and State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, is needed to solve the patient care crisis.

HARRISBURG, PA — On Wednesday, March 20, nurses from across Pennsylvania filled the capitol steps and were joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce legislation that will literally save lives.

Denelle Weller, RN from Central Pennsylvania, spoke at the event as not just a nurse, but as a mother.

Denelle Weller, RN from Central Pennsylvania, spoke at the event as not just a nurse, but as a mother.

“Safe staffing is important to me because we need experience at the bedside and nurses are leaving due to burn out. It’s imperative as a new nurse to pull from the experience of a seasoned, qualified professional,” said Debbie Vandouver, RN, from York. “When nurses leave the bedside our patients suffer tremendously and are adversely affected by the lack of experience. The question is, if this was you or your family member would you want them to get the proper care they need? Because the only way to do that is to demand safe staffing limits legislation.”

The group was there to introduce House Bill 876 / Senate Bill 450, legislation for safe patient limits, which will limit the number of patients a nurse can be assigned, depending on the level of care required. Because the limits were set by nurses, it ensures a minimum standard of care that every person deserves.

Senator Maria Collett (D-12), who is also a Registered Nurse, is sponsoring the Senate bill and shared her own experiences. “As a bedside nurse, I’ve personally seen the impact that inadequate staffing can have on patient care. Study after study shows that safe staffing reduces adverse events, improves outcomes and saves lives.”

Sen. Collett was elected to the legislator as a champion for safe patient limits with large support from nurses. She explained the legislation is urgently needed because, “We are talking about a public health crisis. It’s scary enough when you or a loved one enters a hospital. But when widespread nurse understaffing puts patients at increased risk, we must demand safe patient limits here in Pennsylvania.”

Numerous studies show that safely staffed hospitals have lower mortality rates1, shorter emergency room wait times2, and can drastically lower the readmission rates of pediatric patients3.

Denelle Weller, RN from Central Pennsylvania, spoke at the event as not just a nurse, but as a mother.

“I have personally watched nurses go through entire shifts without a break, unable to eat or even go to the bathroom. I witnessed a nurse rushing so much that a critical mistake was nearly made on my own daughter,” said Weller. “It made me angry and sad. Sad that this nurse could not safely deliver care because of the confines of her assignment that night, and angry because nurses have, for literal decades, practiced under the guise that we actually have to deliver care this way.”

The toll of the staffing crisis isn’t just felt by patients. The nursing profession is being deeply impacted. A federal workforce study indicates that Only 76% of Registered Nurses in PA are currently employed as nurses, and 6% are unemployed4.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, co-sponsor of the legislation, explained why he has been so supportive of Safe Patient Limit laws says, “This is an important bills for patients and a powerful bill for nurses, this press conference shows that we have a real momentum for this bill, and it’s time we take action for safe patient limits.”

Nurses at the event are from advocacy group Nurses of Pennsylvania and unions — SEIU Healthcare PA and Pennsylvania Association of State Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). Together, the group represents nearly 20,000 nurses across the state.

Before and after the event, they visited lawmakers to urge them to support the bills.






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SEIU HCPA Pres. Yarnell’s Response to PA Attorney General’s Suit Against UPMC

Hospital workers and caregivers across Pennsylvania have been the leading force demanding accountability from charitable healthcare institutions. In response to the announcement by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that he is filing a lawsuit against UPMC., Matt Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said:

“Since its founding, SEIU Healthcare PA has insisted that compassion and cooperation are the central principles of charitable healthcare. Our members work hard every day to deliver on those principles through their devoted caregiving. And they have demanded accountability from companies that defy those principles by restricting patients’ access to their providers, denying good jobs and union rights to working people, and exploiting the taxpayers who subsidize them. Today, billion-dollar healthcare giants who abuse patients, violate workers’ rights, and exploit taxpayers are being held to account for masquerading as charities. We are very proud to see our members’ committed advocacy—our phone calls and town halls, our voices and our votes — result in this victory for everyone in our region.”

Workers have struck multiple times to protest egregious violations of workers’ rights and call attention to low wages that do not keep up with rising costs. UPMC workers have secured a (yet to be fulfilled)  promise of $15 an hour from UPMC and last spring, hospital workers rallied their neighbors to testify for hours against UPMC development that was taking advantage of Pittsburgh. Ultimately, their work secured a community benefits agreement before the project was allowed to move forward. As caregivers, Pennsylvanians, and patients, hospital workers are critical stakeholders in this investigation.

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Nurses Hold Statewide Vigil for Safe Patient Limits

NA Safe Staffing Banner 2018

Hundreds of nurses across the state gathered to shine a light on the care crisis and pledge to vote safe staffing on November 6th.

Dozens of nurses across Pennsylvania held candlelight vigils Wednesday evening  as a call for action to end chronic short staffing in our state’s hospitals and nursing homes by electing candidates on November 6th who support safe patient limit laws.

“This is a human being issue. This isn’t about republicans or democrats, it’s about humans,” said Paula Stellabotte, an ICU RN from Altoona.  “All of us are going to need the care of a nurse at some point in our life and we want to be able to be there for you.”

As healthcare becomes increasingly corporate, care decisions in hospitals and nursing homes are being made by executives rather than those on the frontline of care. Nurses must do more with less as executives place the bottom line ahead of patient care.

“Nurses have been working to try and fix the care crisis but management doesn’t always listen,” said Kim Heverly, RN. “Until there are laws in place that set a safe limit, hospitals aren’t going to take notice and they aren’t going to change anything.”

In a study of 1,000 bedside nurses last year, 94% of nurses say their facility does not have enough nursing staff and 95% have been unable to provide best care as a result. Research shows implementing safe patient limits in Pennsylvania could reduce surgical patient deaths in hospitals by 10%.

For the past year, nurses across Pennsylvania have met with candidates and legislators to educate them about the crisis and urge them to commit to supporting safe patient limit laws. (PA House Bill 1500 and PA Senate Bill 214). To date, there are 51 cosponsors of the bills in the house and 18 cosponsors in the senate, representing both sides of the aisle.

“If I have 11 patients in a 12-hour shift that means I see each patient for just 1 hour a day – and that patient may only get 2 hours of nurse time in a 24-hour period. That isn’t enough,” said Jenna Miller, RN. “We need our elected officials to stand with nurses and that means passing these laws. If you aren’t with nurses on this issue then we will vote you out.”

The website allows voters to easily identify candidates in their area who stand with nurses and support safe patient limit laws. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf became the first governor in Pennsylvania history to publicly support safe staffing laws. The Governor also appointed a bedside nurse to the Patient Safety Authority Board, which helps shape hospital care and standards.

Nurses say voters need to know it’s time for change.

“Somedays it feels like we are just barely holding on; our whole teams are stretched,” continued Heverly. “We are in a crisis and it is time to end. This election, we have the opportunity to elect folks who will support safe patient limits and who really stand with nurses.”

Vigils were held Wednesday night in Altoona, State College, and Luzerne.

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Allegheny Valley Hospital caregivers negotiate landmark contract

Registered nurses, nurses aides, dietary, housekeeping and other service workers at Allegheny Valley Hospital (AVH) ratified a new three-year union contract with the hospital that focuses on the recruitment and retention of new staff by making significant improvements in pay, as well as staffing across the hospital.

The Union and Hospital were committed to recognizing the important contribution of all hospital workers and creating strong family-sustaining jobs in our communities. The average wage for service workers will rise from $14.20 to $19.28 over the 3-year contract. For registered nurses, both sides were committed to negotiating pay that will attract and retain the best nurses to serve our patients, resulting in almost 12% in raises.

Included in this were additional steps in the pay scale to reward and retain experienced and dedicated hospital employees who play a critical role in operations, and also to help the hospital stay competitive in recruiting more dedicated staff to serve our community.

“We’re very excited about this new contract because it will help us recruit the new staff that we urgently need, but it also helps us hold on to our most experienced staff,” said Jane Davis, a 23-year employee in the Lab. “Some of us have dedicated decades of our lives to this hospital, and in many ways, we’re the backbone of the hospital. We need to keep that experience right here at Allegheny Valley.”

The new contract also reflects investments by management to provide additional staffing in each unit of the hospital so nurses and aides will have fewer patients, and to ensure that as healthcare demands are changing in our community that AVH can provide the highest quality of care and best patient experience.

“Every staff member in our hospital – from nurses to aides – wants to give their very best to each patient. With these staffing improvements, we’ll be able to spend more time with our patients and deliver the top quality care our community deserves,” said Mary Kuniak, a registered nurse with 14 years of service at the hospital.

The contract covers nearly 600 employees at Allegheny Valley Hospital and will expire in 2021. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania represents 3,500 nurses and service workers across the Allegheny Health Network.


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Workers at Chestnut Hill and Pottstown Hospitals Stand Up to Tower Health’s Unhealthy Proposals and Policies

Workers at Chestnut Hill Hospital

Workers at Chestnut Hill Hospital

On Wednesday, August 22, service and technical workers, maintenance and dietary staff, housekeepers, transporters, nurses and nursing assistants from Chestnut Hill Hospital (CHH) and Pottstown Hospital gathered in front of their respective facilities to deliver a message to the owner of both hospitals — Tower Health. The message?

“We demand respect!”

Workers at both CHH and Pottstown Hospital, have been in contract negotiations for months and have consistently met with unmoving Tower administrators who refuse to compromise on key issues.

One such issue is Tower’s proposed healthcare plan which would force many workers at CHH to travel over 50 miles to see a doctor in-network.

“We live in Philadelphia and my son’s doctor isn’t covered by the Tower plan,” said Venus Russell, a unit secretary at CHH. “We would have to travel to Reading to see a specialist under their plan or else I would have to pay out-of-network prices. I can’t afford that. I don’t know anyone who can.”

“And if we did go to Reading to see a doctor,” Russell continued, “we’d have to take an Uber or a Lyft and that would cost $70 one way. I looked it up. I can’t afford that either.”

Ashantay has lived in Pottstown her whole life and can’t afford Tower’s healthcare for her daughter’s epilepsy.

Ashantay has lived in Pottstown her whole life and can’t afford Tower’s healthcare for her daughter’s epilepsy.

In Pottstown, workers called Tower Health out for its poor treatment of the Pottstown community — most notably in its arranging for the hospital to gain non-profit status from the Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals, taking more than a million dollars away from local schools and borough services this year.

But foremost on Pottstown workers’ minds was Tower’s obvious lack of respect for the success Pottstown Hospital has enjoyed for decades before Tower Health purchased it. That success, they say, is all thanks to the people who work there.

“Pottstown Hospital is able to deliver such a high level of care because of the hard work, talent, and skill of the people who work here,” said Terry Flicker, a unit clerk in the hospital’s short procedure unit. “Tower’s proposals cut benefits and incentives making it tremendously difficult to attract and retain the best employees and to keep delivering the quality of care we’re known for.”

Also at issue for both hospitals are Tower’s proposals to cut vacation and sick time benefits, holiday pay, uniform allowances, and other incentives meant to attract and retain a high-quality workforce. These cuts, workers say, amount to Tower disinvesting in staff and short-changing the communities that their hospitals serve.

“This is our hospital,” said Angela Ray, who has worked in the dietary department at CHH for more than 11 years. “It belongs to the people who work here and to the community. We are what makes Chestnut Hill Hospital great.”

Chestnut Hill Hospital CNA Gary Canada speaks to local news about workers' efforts to negotiate a fair contract.

Chestnut Hill Hospital CNA Gary Canada speaks to local news about workers’ efforts to negotiate a fair contract.

Workers from both hospitals said they are willing to do whatever it takes to bargain a fair contract — one that respects workers, acknowledges their contribution to the hospitals’ success and invests in their communities.

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Geisinger Wyoming Valley RNs Win Strong Four-Year Contract!

GWV Bargaining Committee 2018 Banner

On Thursday, January 31st, Registered Nurses at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center ratified a strong new union contract! The four-year agreement puts in place positive changes to improve bedside care and recruit and retain experienced, skilled nurses.

“It’s a new day for all of us,” said Kim Klinger, who has been a GWV RN since 2003. “This is a great achievement for nurses, our hospital, and all our patients.”

The contract includes:

  • Improved staffing language so RNs have more input into the staffing needs of their patients;
  • Changes to on-call use to prevent nurse burnout;
  • Guaranteed yearly wage increases (3% each year);
  • Better training for RNs who float between departments; and
  • A student loan assistance program for RNs who stay at the hospital more than 10 years.

“Education improvements are going to have a big impact on nurse retention,” said Klinger. “Nurses will come here, stay here, and their skills and experience will benefit our patients.”

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Fulton County Medical Center Workers Ratify New Five-Year Contract

When Fulton County Medical Center (FCMC) announced they would be outsourcing their dietary department, workers there were concerned. The group had never really been involved with the union and initially wanted to trust management and give them a chance to do the right thing.

FCMC Dietary WebBut suddenly, reality hit. The new contracting company was not going to honor seniority. People being hired off the street would start at a higher wage rate than experienced staff who had been working there for years. Workers saw shrinking paychecks as their years of service were not honored and their healthcare costs jumped.

Workers who had been in that department for over 30 years suddenly felt disrespected. They were outsiders.

Dietary workers realized they needed a voice and a way to fight back and the way to do that was to organize. The entire department signed on to become full members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and, in solidarity, headed into contract negotiations with the new company to demand a fair contract for their work.

The new company didn’t think the workers would stick together and was ready to pounce. What they didn’t know was that these healthcare workers were ready to RISE and realize their collective strength.

That strength ultimately meant victory for the workers. In the end, they won a five-year contract that includes:

  • Wage increases that bring all workers over $10 an hour;
  • Tenure bonus to encourage retention;
  • A retirement plan;
  • Fair Paid Time Off that recognizes years of service;
  • Seniority protections;
  • Full union security;
  • Improved bereavement leave;
  • Guaranteed yearly wage increases;
  • Successorship language; and
  • A medical insurance stipend

When workers come together to form a union, they find the power they were lacking as individuals in the workplace. When workers stick together, they can accomplish anything. When we fight, we win!

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SEIU Healthcare PA Endorses Nurse Michelle Boyle for State Senate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Boyle, a registered nurse and member of the healthcare union, is running for a state Senate seat in Pennsylvania’s 38th district

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, PA — Michelle Boyle, a registered nurse and Allegheny County resident, launches her campaign for Pennsylvania State Senate in Allegheny County’s 38th District today, winning enthusiastic endorsement from SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest healthcare workers’ union. On behalf of the nearly 45,000 union members, President Matthew Yarnell issued the following statement:

“With the health, security, and quality of life of working people under constant attack from corporations and out of touch politicians in Harrisburg and Washington, we need real leaders we can trust to help us fight back. Michelle Boyle — as a nurse, a mother, and a community leader — has stood up for her patients and working families her entire career. Nursing is America’s most trusted profession because nurses like Michelle are relentless advocates for the people they serve — this is exactly the kind of commitment we need in Harrisburg. It’s the kind of leadership that Michelle Boyle will bring to the state senate.”

Boyle issued the following response to the union’s endorsement:

“I promise to represent my constituents with the same commitment, compassion, and unrelenting advocacy, that I have brought my patients in my 24 years as a nurse.”

“I am incredibly honored to have earned the support of the hard-working medical professionals of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. As a nurse and healthcare provider myself, I know the struggles that working families are living every day. If elected to the state senate, I will advocate for them with just as much dedication.”

Michelle Boyle’s official campaign kick-off event is tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Tazza d’Oro in Millvale, 524 Grant Ave., Millvale, PA 15209.

For more info contact James Myers:; 215-479-2213


SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania is the state’s largest and fastest-growing union of nurses and healthcare workers, uniting nearly 45,000 nurses, professional and technical employees, direct care workers, and service employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home and community- based services, and State facilities across the Commonwealth. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members are committed to improving the lives of healthcare workers` and ensuring quality care and healthy communities and for all Pennsylvanians.

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