Nurses on Strike
The Long Island Catholic News
Nurses' strike begins second week
St. Catherine of Siena administration, union waiting for talks
Smithtown - As the nurses' strike at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center here entered its second week, hospital and union officials are waiting for negotiations to begin again.
"The federal mediators have informed us that they scheduled another session for Tuesday morning, Dec. 11," said James Wilson, St. Catherine's president and chief executive officer.
Hospital officials last met with representatives from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), which represents about 475 striking nurses at St. Catherine's Nov. 25, the day before the strike, Mr. Wilson said.
"Our primary concern is providing care to our patients and serving the community. We want to get our nurses back for this," Mr. Wilson said.
He added that the hospital continues to provide the same level of care through replacement nurses. "The state department of health is in here every day checking to see that quality is maintained."
Nurses had been working without a contract since May at the former St. John's Episcopal Hospital, which Catholic Health Services (CHS) acquired from the financially troubled Episcopal Health Services early in 2000.
CHS, which consists of the Catholic hospitals and healthcare institutions in the Rockville Centre Diocese, named the newly Catholic hospital St. Catherine of Siena.
The strike followed unsuccessful efforts by the nurses and the hospital to reach an agreement on several issues, particularly employee health insurance, staffing levels, and mandatory overtime.
On Dec. 1, striking nurses held a rally outside the hospital. They were joined by local politicians and nurses from other hospitals, and other supporters.
Anne Schott, a spokesperson for NYSNA, said that when CHS acquired the hospital, the nurses agreed to drop staffing guidelines temporarily until the new administration could address the hospital's financial troubles. But Mrs. Schott said the problem still exists.
"Related to the understaffing is the problem of mandatory overtime," Ms. Schott said. Under mandatory overtime a supervisor can require a nurse already completing one shift to work an additional shift.
"They are using that as a routine staffing tool," Ms. Schott asserted.
Katherine Heaviside, a spokesperson for St. Catherine's, agreed that staffing is a problem but denied that the staffing levels endanger patient care.
"We agree that mandatory overtime should be avoided, but the hospital needs to be able to use it as a last resort." She added that over a two-week pay period, only four percent of the overtime worked at the hospital is mandatory overtime.
She contended that St. Catherine's is dealing with the staffing problems and has hired 110 nurses since CHS acquired the hospital. Although 70 nurses have also left, "some of that is due to retirement and relocation." The turnover, she said, has to be seen in the context of the hospital's size and the nursing shortage being faced by the whole country.
"Early this year, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a national accreditation agency, did a survey of St. Catherine's and gave the hospital a rating of 96," she said, placing St. Catherine's in the upper 17 percent of hospitals in the country.
EMAIL THE EDITOR: