WILKES-BARRE — Nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, frustrated by the lack of progress in contract negotiations with the hospital’s owner, took their cause to the street Wednesday in the form of informational picketing.
Throughout the day, nurses picketed in front of the hospital on North River Street in protest of what they call Community Health System’s (CHS) “antagonistic approach” to the nursing staff.
Terry Marcavage, staff representative for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), said ongoing bad faith bargaining and employer unfair labor practices, forced overtime in violation of Pennsylvania law, and chronic short staffing levels at the hospital are among the nurses complaints.
“Morale is suffering,” Marcavage said. “We’re losing nurses and that impacts patient care.”
PASNAP, a union of 5,000 nurses and health professionals throughout Pennsylvania, represents the 400 nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
The three-year contract between CHS and the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association’s expired on April 30. The nurses say the lack of progress during negotiations has left them questioning the hospital’s commitment to providing safe patient care to the community.
Later Wednesday James P. McGuire, Director of Communications for CHS, issued a statement that did not address the negotiation allegations but said Wilkes-Barre General Hospital was operating as usual Wednesday.
“Our top priority is the care and safety of our patients, employees and visitors,” the hospital statement said. “All inpatient, outpatient and emergency services are available and all surgeries and diagnostic procedures are continuing as scheduled.”
“We’ve had some discussions, but CHS won’t discuss staffing,” Marcavage said. “All we ask is that they listen to the nurses’ concerns. If we continue to lose nurses, who will care for the patients?”
Stanley Wielgopolski, a registered nurse in the emergency room, said it always seems that the nurses have to push back against management.
“We have to fight back against the injustice against nurses,” he said. “We’re always met with resistance. If we can’t get our differences resolved behind closed doors, we have to take it outside to the community.”
Nurses were handing out informational flyers that cited statistics compiled by PASNAP. The flyer claimed in the first three months of 2013, CHS had “already forced nurses to work overtime shifts 82 times.”
The flier claimed that since CHS purchased Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in 2009, forced overtime shifts have dramatically and steadily increased from 28 in 2009 to 170 in 2012.
The nurses carried signs that read: “Patients before profits.”
Just weeks ago, nurses at the hospital held a press conference to denounce “the dangerous and numerous violations” of Act 102 — the state law that makes it illegal to mandate a nurse to work overtime — and to bring attention to “insufficient staffing levels” in the hospital.