Wilkes-Barre General nurses set strike date

2018-05-23 | The Daily Star-Journal

May 23--WILKES-BARRE -- Nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital plan to strike later this month over staffing and patient safety concerns, their union announced Tuesday.

Hospital officials, meanwhile, say they are prepared to maintain operations -- as they did during a one-day strike and succeeding lockout at sister facilities last month.

The nurses, represented by PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, say they are prepared to hold a one-day walkout May 31.

Contract negotiations were being held Tuesday, and union officials said they offered to meet with hospital administration any time up until the strike to resolve issues.

"A strike is always a last resort," said registered nurse and PASNAP local president Elaine Weale. "But these are serious issues that impact patient safety. We feel we have to stand up and fight for the quality of care that our patients need and deserve."

The hospital is owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems (CHS), a for-profit operator of 126 hospitals in 20 states, including WBGH, First Hospital in Kingston and Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton.

"A contingency operations plan will be implemented, in the event the strike does occur, to ensure continuation of quality services," a statement released by a hospital spokeswoman read. "As always, our top priority is the care and safety of our patients, employees and visitors wherever such activity may occur."

Registered nurses at First Hospital and Moses Taylor struck on Wednesday, April 25. Hospital officials responded by locking the strikers out until the following Monday.

PASNAP says CHS "has refused to take nurses' concerns seriously, resulting in chronic understaffing and unhealthy over-reliance on temporary agency nurses and even illegal forced overtime."

According to union calculations, WGBH was short-staffed by more than 107 FTEs (full-time positions) and had more than 900 unfilled shift openings in the emergency room during a recent six-week period.

The hospital was also cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for numerous violations of the state's ban on mandatory overtime for nurses and other front line health care workers, the union added.

CHS' statement did not address any of those issues, noting only the union "has served a notice of its intent to conduct a strike, picketing and other concerted refusal to work activity" starting at 7 a.m. May 31.