This past summer we all watched as three catastrophic hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Millions of Americans struggled to survive and put their lives back together in the aftermath and I knew I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how.
When my chapter president told me our national union was looking for nurses to join a relief mission to Puerto Rico organized by labor unions, I jumped at the chance. I had always wanted to contribute my skills and nursing expertise when our union organized trips during other disasters, but with young children at home I hadn’t been able to go. Now that my kids are grown, I felt it was time for me to go.
With the support of my husband, manager and colleagues at Heritage Valley Beaver Hospital, I prepared to leave for Puerto Rico in a matter of days. I left Newark, N.J. on a flight with over 300 union members, all strangers. My colleagues at Heritage Valley Beaver Hospital sent me off with a suitcase bursting with donations of medical supplies, new clothing and toys.
Before we left we were told to expect long days and rough conditions. I knew from watching television news coverage that there wouldn’t be electricity, and communications from the island would be unpredictable at best. Even expecting the worst, I was shocked by the conditions we found there.
For a lot of us, losing power briefly can be an inconvenience, but as nurses we know it can be deadly. Patients who rely on dialysis, oxygen or refrigerated insulin simply can’t get by without it. By the time we arrived in Puerto Rico, people living in the small towns and isolated areas outside the capital city of San Juan had been without power for a month with no relief in sight.
Given the confusion on the ground, donations were not always getting to all the people who needed them. One of the nurses on the trip started a Go Fund Me page to raise money for supplies. We all shared it with our friends and families back home and were able to raise $52,000 in just two weeks. We bought water and food wherever we could find it and took it into the small towns and communities outside San Juan.
Getting to those communities was a complicated process. Many roads were impassable due to downed trees and bamboo. The constant rain made everything worse, causing mudslides that washed out roads. Sometimes buses and trucks were no use when trying to reach the people who needed us the most. When that happened, we got out and walked, carrying water, food and medical supplies.
I can’t describe the living conditions as anything other than horrendous. In one town we visited, the flood water had reached eight feet and stayed there for a month. This left houses and buildings covered with mold. The flood waters were filled with dead animals, rats, feces and all the bacteria that comes with it. In each town we visited we set up a clinic where we could see patients and provide education, particularly about the importance of drinking clean water. We saw a lot of conjunctivitis, skin and foot infections, leptospirosis, respiratory issues and a few cases of cholera. For people already living in poor health that comes with severe poverty, these kinds of illnesses can be life or death. We did our best to treat those conditions on top of the high rates of diabetes and hypertension people had before the hurricane.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired in my life, but I wish we could have stayed longer. The people of Puerto Rico have largely been ignored and they need so much more help. Seeing the immense need, the tears from people who have lost everything, who are doing their best to manage in the face of unbelievable difficulties, makes me so glad I went. And ready to volunteer again in the future.
I went to Puerto Rico on a plane full of strangers, but I came back with a family. I will never forget the relationships I built with other union members from different places, different backgrounds and different jobs by working together to help people who needed us.
As nurses, we have a calling to help and heal. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to do that for our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. If you would like to help you can donate by clicking here.
On Monday, October 30, 2017, an overwhelming majority of the 1,300 registered nurses at Allegheny General Hospital voted to approve a new union contract after reaching an agreement with management that raises hiring rates for nurses, provides longevity increases for experienced nurses, and continues to improve the nurse to patient ratios which are currently part of the contract on all inpatient units. This contract also secures nurses defined benefit pension and other retirement benefits, and maintains high quality affordable healthcare benefits for nurses.
“Throughout these negotiations, we have remained focused on two goals: making sure there are always enough nurses at the bedside for our patients, and that our input is respected in care-delivery decisions,” said Cathy Stoddart, President of the nurses’ union. “This contract achieves those goals and we’re looking forward to the improvements in patient care that come with it.”
In addition to investing in nurses pay and compensation and resources towards RN staffing, the contract expands the quality and process improvement initiatives that nurses have spearheaded over the last seven years. Nurses at the hospital know that these provisions in the new contract will make Allegheny General Hospital the employer of choice for RNs in the region enhancing to recruit and retain nurses, an issue that has become essential in the highly competitive Pittsburgh health care market.
“Nurses have been leading quality improvement and innovation at Allegheny General, and we’re excited that those programs will expand under this contract,” said Stoddart. “We know that AHN will be leading in this region in both patient safety and highest quality of care with these investments for patients and nurses in our union contract. This contract is an open invitation for nurses to come apply at AGH because we have created a better work environment where nurses are respected and rewarded for the care we give.”
For Immediate Release
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania orthopedic nurse from Heritage Beaver Valley Hospital joins 200 skilled union members in two-week Puerto Rico relief trip.
Beaver County, PA — Last week, Wendy Snyder, an orthopedic nurse at Heritage Beaver Valley Hospital, joined 200 first responders and skilled volunteers from over 17 states to help with relief efforts and the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
The volunteers will spend two weeks in Puerto Rico coordinating with the Puerto Rico AFL-CIO and the city of San Juan on various efforts including helping clear road blockages, servicing hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies and restoring power and communications.
Just a few days ago organizers from the AFL-CIO asked union members to volunteer to provide relief services in what is being called the ‘the single biggest hurricane catastrophe in the history of the US.’ Hundreds of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania nurses didn’t hesitate to offer their time and expertise to the people suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“God has been very good to me and I’ve wanted to find a way to give back for a long time but didn’t feel I could leave my kids when they were little. Now that they’re grown I was thrilled to be able to answer my union’s call for volunteers to help in Puerto Rico.
I’ve been told to expect to work long hours in facilities with limited power and few of the services we take for granted in our hospitals. We will need to react to the needs on the ground as they change and do our best to care for the people who have been living through this devastation.
I’m not the only nurse in my union who volunteered. I heard that in just a few days hundreds of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania nurses volunteered to go help in the hurricane disaster areas in Puerto Rico as well as Florida and Texas, on their own time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room on the plane for everyone who wanted to go. I know that unions all over the country are trying to put together more flights and opportunities for nurses to take our very important skills to the people who need us the most right now.
When my colleagues heard that I was going, they all jumped in and purchased much-needed supplies. I have a large suitcase packed with medical supplies, toys, books, stickers, stuffed animals and brand new clothes for the families who have lost everything; I barely had room to pack anything for myself. I was touched by the generosity and quick action of my colleagues.”
The AFL-CIO, Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and United Airlines teamed up to take the skilled volunteers to Puerto Rico and deliver donated food, water, and essential supplies to those who need it most.
The San Juan Coliseum has been turned into dormitory-style housing with cots to house the volunteers. The trip’s organizers will coordinate transporting work crews to sites throughout San Juan and the rest of the island based on where their skills are needed most urgently. Volunteers will try to send periodic updates during the next two weeks, but it is unclear if the communication infrastructure on the island will be up and running. The volunteers will return to Newark on October 18.
Contact: Krysta Curl 202-568-072; Krysta.Curl@movementcomms.com
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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. Together, we work to protect patient care, expand access to quality health care for all, and to lives of healthcare workers. We accomplish these goals by organizing non-union healthcare workers, driving industry standards in our contracts and fighting for legislation that affects health care in our state.
On Oct. 2, workers at Washington Health System – Greene in Waynesburg, Pa. ratified a new three-year contract including annual wage increases, expanded bereavement leave to grandparents, stepparents, and stepchildren, and job protection language.
Despite considerable pressure from Washington Health System management, the bargaining committee was able to stop efforts to take away vacation days and kept the steep healthcare premium hikes proposed to 3%.
Throughout this process, chapter leaders worked hard to ensure that jobs at Washington Health System – Greene will attract the best candidates and patient care would continue to be a priority and of the highest quality.
Congratulations Washington Health System – Greene workers!
State College, Pa. After months of negotiations that nearly culminated in a strike, around 900 workers at Mt. Nittany Medical Center have achieved a strong new contract. The new agreement was ratified on Thursday night by a majority of over 90%
The group, which includes nurses, dietary, environmental service workers and others, has been focused on maintaining high job standards for the community.
“Our community needs good jobs, and MNMC plays a key role in that,” said Scott Liliedahl, who works in Maintenance at the hospital.
As the people on the frontlines of care, workers also know that better jobs benefit patients.
“Retaining staff plays a huge part in patient care,” continued Cynthia Calvin-Vandergas, RN. “Recruiting and keeping qualified, experienced healthcare workers right here is the best way to ensure a consistent level of quality care in our hospital.”
Key highlights of the new 3-year contract include:
“The education benefit is so important,” said Carralee Franzwa, Certified Surgical Technologist. “We all want to make sure healthcare workers have the opportunity to continue learning in this changing industry. And it helps keep more and more skilled workers right here in State College.”
Over 1300 workers at Chambersburg hospital have achieved a strong new contract. The new agreement was ratified on Thursday by an overwhelming 99% majority.
The group – covering all departments of the hospital – was focused on maintaining high job standards for the community. Chambersburg hospital is one of the largest employers in the county.
“We want to keep good jobs right here in our community.” said John Reinhart, RN. “Healthcare workers should come here and make their career here with jobs that allow them to support their families. That’s how we grow our local economy.”
Key highlights of the new 4-year contract include:
“The education benefit is so important to keeping skilled workers right here,” continued Reinhart. “One of my coworkers started in an entry-level job and was able to go back to school twice, eventually becoming a lab technician. Our patients benefit from that kind of investment in the workforce.”
Chambersburg Hospital is one of several hospitals with workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania that has been negotiating a new contract this summer. Thousands of nurses and hospital workers at Heritage Valley Beaver, Mount Nittany Medical Center, Chestnut Hill Hospital, and Canonsburg hospital are also uniting for contracts this month to ensure that Hospitals, as anchor employers in our communities, are providing good jobs with affordable healthcare, to set a standard for all working families .
This week, more than a thousand service and clerical workers at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first contract with the hospital, working with management to settle a fair contract that moves workers, the hospital, and all of Pittsburgh forward.
Having only organized less than a year ago, this is not just a historic accomplishment for these workers, but a validation of the growing movement of workers from Pittsburgh’s largest hospitals. These workers are holding our state’s largest employers accountable to rebuild our middle class and contribute to the health and wellness of all residents in the region.
This is the first major group of hospital workers in the city of Pittsburgh to have a union contract and they couldn’t be more excited.
“For the first time, we have a voice at AGH,” said Darlene Nicholson, a lab processor at the hospital. “And we’ve seen that they have already started to listen and work with us.”
The new contract makes real progress for workers and the hospital by ensuring fair raises and affordable health care for everyone, a secure defined benefit pension, job security and a stronger voice in improving patient care.
The agreement solidifies the commitment of frontline staff and management to work together to improve the already great care that AGH provides.
Some highlights of the new contracts include:
These raises move the average wage for AGH employees above $15 an hour by the end of the year — a full three years ahead of UPMC’s promised wage increase.
Workers across the Allegheny Health Network will continue to bargain new contracts in the coming months and this unprecedented partnership between AGH management and workers will only serve to inspire and encourage more success.
Congratulations to all of these workers for making history once again and for making a tremendous impact on their community, both now and in the future!
Workers at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center ratified a new contract with management on October 8th by an overwhelming 93% majority.
“We are pleased to have an agreement that will move us forward, especially toward more affordable healthcare” said Melissa Costello, a histo lab tech at the hospital.
The 3-year contract provides wage increases of 1.75% the first year and 2% for the next two years, bringing the starting salary for all workers at the hospital to $15.17 by 2017. In addition, there will be a cap on insurance premiums hikes and any increases will be tied to actual rises in costs, evidenced by COBRA rate increases. Workers stood with serious medical conditions or injuries who are on long-term disability will also be able to stay on the insurance for six months. Management had initially proposed benefits would end after 90 days.
The nearly 300 SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members at the hospital represent LPNs, nursing aides, and tech positions in the hospital.
On Monday, March 8, registered nurses at Canonsburg General Hospital near Pittsburgh voted overwhelmingly to unite with 25,000 other healthcare
workers in SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. With a majority of 78%, nurses cast their votes to have a stronger voice on the job in order to maintain quality care standards and improve working conditions.
“We are thrilled to come together to form a union because we believe our patients and our community will benefit from nurses having a stronger voice,” said Carol Cramer, a med-surgical nurse who has worked at Canonsburg General Hospital for 37 years, “We look forward to working with hospital management to strengthen the high standards of care we are all proud of at our hospital.”
Canonsburg Hospital is part of the Allegheny Health Network, which serves 29 Pennsylvania counties, primarily in Western Pennsylvania. By forming their union, Canonsburg RNs join over 2,000 SEIU Healthcare PA members at Allegheny General Hospital and Allegheny Valley Hospital that are also part of the Allegheny Health Network.
Merri Beth Allen, a nurse who has worked at Canonsburg Hospital for 32 years: “My coworkers and I work hard every day to provide the best care to our patients who are also our parents, our pastors, our neighbors and friends. We are in a changing healthcare environment, and through our union we can work with management to make our hospital even better for patients and the community who we serve and for each other.”
“The over 25,000 nurses and healthcare workers of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania are proud and excited to welcome the Canonsburg General Hospital RNs,” said Neal Bisno, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “Our union commends the leadership of AHN and the hospital for respecting the nurses’ right to choose to form a union, and we join the nurses in committing to work with management to make CGH the best that it can be for patients and the community served by the hospital.”
As our healthcare system continues to shift toward an emphasis on quality over quantity of care, our members are gaining national recognition in their work to find new and innovative ways to improve patient care and satisfaction while reducing costs. On Wednesday, June 11, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with frontline nurses at Allegheny General Hospital to recognize their collaborative work with hospital administrators as a national model of innovation.
“This hospital, this health system, has rejected that false choice that you either take care of your bottom line or you take care of your workers or you take care of your patients,” said Secretary Perez during his AGH visit, “You can do all of those, and you have demonstrated it here.”
This unique relationship between nurses and management traces back to 2003 when AGH RNs established unit-based Patient Care Committees and a hospital-wide Nurse Collaboration Council that allowed nurses and management avenues to think through issues together to make the hospital run more smoothly. Through these, nurses and management launched a variety of initiatives to improve quality and contain costs.
During Secretary’s Perez’s visit, Chapter president Cathy Stoddart, Kidney, Liver and Gyne-Oncology nurse, spoke about the Nurse Collaboration Council’s implementation of a holistic hospital-wide program in 2011 to improve nurse training opportunities, change the way caregivers interact with patients and streamline processes to increase efficiency (made possible by a grant from the Department of Labor).
One such application of this program is the Hearts of Gold initiative that trained nurses on how to increase overall patient satisfaction. Within months of implementing this approach, hospital Press Ganey scores (which measure patient satisfaction) soared to 94%, the highest score ever recorded on that unit. Another example focused on standardizing patient assignment sheets which has help streamline patient care delivery, alleviate nurse frustration and significantly lower costs associated with overtime.
“One of the best way to change the culture at AGH is to involve as many nurses as possible in studying a process, seeing its successes and flaws and leading the way to help fix it.”
She went on to attribute nurses’ meaningful involvement to having a strong union. “Our work has been made possible because we as union nurses have the ability to have a significant voice on the job and the ability to foster strong, collaborative relationships with hospital administrators through our union. With strong partners in AGH, Allegheny Health Network, and Highmark – we are improving the lives of Pittsburgh patients and the work lives of frontline caregivers.”