By Lawrence Sanata
Sunday, April 7, 2002
President of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions at Butler Memorial Hospital Nurses at Butler Memorial Hospital are hoping some of the accomplishments made by unionized nurses in California can be duplicated in Butler County.
One of those is the formation of working committees, composed of nurses and representatives of hospital management, to improve patient care and address nurse shortages, said Tammy May, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions at the hospital.
"I think we can work together (here) to make improvements for everybody," she said. "I think there are so many improvements that health care needs."
Nurses at Butler Memorial have been negotiating with hospital officials since January. The existing nurses' contract expires at midnight Tuesday. Nurses have threatened to strike Wednesday if a new agreement is not reached.
John Righetti, the hospital's vice president of communications, said a number of committees that include nurses already exist at the hospital.
May, a nurse in the hospital's intensive care unit, said, however, that she and other nurses at Butler Memorial are concerned about nurse-to-patient ratios at the hospital, as well as the recruitment and retention of nurses.
She would not talk about specific ratios, but instead said it is important that nurses and hospital management sit down to talk about how the best nursing care can be provided to patients. She said she does not advocate a single, overall nurse-to-patient ratio, but different ratios that reflect the differing needs of patients.
In California, regulations are expected to be approved later this year that set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for different hospital departments. Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Association, said the union has worked 10 years to get the minimum ratios established.
Two years ago, unionized nurses at Butler Memorial, formerly represented by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, became part of what was then the new Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions. Today, that union represents nurses in 11 hospitals in the state.
Playing a big part in helping Pennsylvania nurses establish a new union two years ago was the California Nurses Association. It offered guidance in the creation of a new nursing union, according to May and officials from the two unions.
The 44,000-member California union is recognized for helping to promote legislation for patients and nurses, alike, including the first minimum nurse-to-patient ratio in the nation.
Rose Ann DeMaro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, said she is pleased with the efforts being made by nurses at Butler Memorial Hospital to improve conditions there.
"I think that they will inspire all kinds of nurses (in Pennsylvania) to get involved and to get active," she said.
Patricia Buhl, a spokeswoman for Jeannette District Memorial Hospital in Jeannette, Westmoreland County, said the Pennsylvania association represents about 175 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses at that hospital.
She said the hospital's director of nursing meets monthly with union representatives-one representing registered nurses and the other representing licensed practical nurses-to discuss nursing issues.
There also is a professional performance committee, made up of management, union representatives and staff members who meet quarterly to discuss issues specific to departments within the hospital, she said.
Although Buhl said those meetings took place before nurses joined the union, Pearl Kolbosky, a critical care nurse there who was involved in forming the union, said the union was responsible for both the monthly and quarterly meetings.
The union has made a difference for nurses, she said. The union and the hospital entered into a new contract two years ago and a wage and pension reopener last year and got better results than nurses received in the past.
May said she hopes that gains like that can be made at Butler Memorial Hospital.
"We want to try something new, because obviously the approach we have taken (at BMH) in the past is not successful," the union president said.
"There's not enough staff to take care of patients ... and they (hospital officials) are having a hard time recruiting and retaining nurses, especially experienced nurses," May said.
About 305 unionized nurses work at the 260-bed hospital. Another 55 nurses work at the hospital, but in supervisory or management positions.
May was reluctant to talk about how many nurses she thought the hospital needed to have.
"What we have proposed ... is that we work jointly as a union and as a hospital and that we partner together to build and develop ratios that look at acuity and that look at (nurse) skill mix," May said.
But Righetti, the hospital's vice president of communications, said the hospital has a number of nursing committees.
"We do already have a fairly sophisticated network of what we call nursing committees," he said. "From our perspective, a partnership already exists between us and our nurses ... in terms of improving things here."
The committees, which are composed of nursing management and nurses, look at everything from hospital policies to attracting new staff, Righetti said.
Eight months ago, he said, the hospital created the position of special assistant to the president for a healthy workplace. That special assistant has created a mini-convenience store and a dry cleaning drop-off point in the hospital for employees' convenience.
The hospital also is partnering with Butler County Community College to attract more people into the health care field, as well as offering advanced training for existing hospital staff, Righetti said.
As for the development of nurse-to-patient ratios, Righetti said, hospital management is reluctant to have ratios "cemented" into its contract with nurses. He said management would prefer to have flexibility in nurse-to-patient ratios and that physicians at the hospital can request greater nurse-to-patient ratios at any time if they think additional nursing help is necessary.
Lawrence Sanata can be reached at email@example.com
or (724) 779-7109.
Tuesday, April 9th, 2002 - BUTLER COUNTY'S GREAT DAILY NEWSPAPER
BMH nurses extend cutoff
Strike deadline now 11 p.m.
4/9/02 - Butler Memorial Hospital's nurses have pushed back their strike deadline to 11 p.m. Wednesday because of progress in contract negotiations.
The nurses' three-year contract expires at midnight tonight.
The two sides have been in negotiations since January. On March 29, the nurses issued the hospital a 10-day strike notice that would go into effect at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
John Righetti, hospital spokesman, said this morning the two bargaining units have begun discussing wages and benefits, but that "it's too early to tell if we will have an agreement."
Tammy Kaufman, vice president of the Pennsylvania Independent Nurses union, which represents 305 nurses at the hospital, said this morning the extended deadline will allow the nurses' bargaining unit time to take a contract proposal to its membership for a vote before the strike deadline.
The nurses are also affiliated with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, PASNAP.
"(Monday) was the first time since we started negotiations in January that I feel we made any progress," Kaufman said. "I am more hopeful today with the progress made on wages and benefits, and the educational needs of nurses."
However, Kaufman said, the hospital's bargaining unit still refuses to discuss nurse-to-patient ratios.
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