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UPDATE: Hospital nurses without contract

Talks expected to resume next week

Posted: February 29, 2012 4:09 p.m.
Updated: February 29, 2012 7:40 p.m.

Registered nurse Jared Axen, left, and supporter Kelly O’Bannon, of Agua Dulce, rally support from passing motorists on McBean Parkway as registered nurses protest Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s “team nursing” staffing program, outside the Valencia hospital on Wednesday.

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A contract between Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and its 450 registered nurses has expired, and while nurses staged a demonstration Wednesday, administrators said they were confident an agreement would be reached.

As of midnight Tuesday, nurses were working without a contract.

“The hospital is confident we will reach a mutual advantageous agreement in the near future,” said Mark Puelo, the hospital’s chief human resources officer and central contract negotiator.

Talks are scheduled to resume next Wednesday, with other tentative dates scheduled if needed, he said.

According to the nurses, the hospital is refusing to discuss money, nurses’ safety and the controversial “team nursing” staffing model.

Team nursing was the main point of the demonstration and candlelifht vigil Wednesday evening, which drew some 60 nurses and their supporters.

According to hospital administrators, the nurses are asking for too much money.

“The hospital held a fifteenth day of negotiations with the California Nurses Association today towards reaching a new agreement,” Puelo said Wednesday in a written statement.

“The parties have been able to reach a tentative agreement on virtually all aspects of the contract and long ago reached a conceptual agreement on the hospital’s primary nurse staffing model,” he said.

“The only tangential issue remaining on staffing is the hospital’s intent to help train and educate existing Licensed Vocational Nurses to become Registered Nurses rather than lay them off, as the union’s proposals would require.

“The real issue remains wages,” Puelo said.

As far as the nurses are concerned, however, the two sides remain “far apart” on several key issues, including: money, nurses’ safety and team nursing, a staffing program that administrators had promised to abandon.

Negotiations between the two sides continued throughout the day Wednesday inside the Residence Inn on The Old Road but stalled without resolution by the end of the day, said nurses negotiating for their association.

“We have to prepare for the worst,” said Louie Rada, spokesman for the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses United with which local nurses are affiliated.

“We are going to have meetings with our membership and let the nurses decide what they want to do — whether its an actual strike or a call for more candlelight vigils,” he said.

Hospital administrators “excused the union bargaining team” so that members could attend the Wednesday evening demonstration and vigil, Puelo said.

“Today’s vigil is really not about nurse staffing, but more about the union’s unrealistic salary demands,” he said. “The hospital has proposed raises starting at 6.4 percent and up to 25 percent over three years, but the union is demanding more.”

Some 60 nurses and supporters, chanting and carrying signs, took part in the demonstration starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Vigil participants are protesting facility policies they say undermine the quality of patient care, Rada said.

Last April, hospital administrators announced they would abandon their team nursing program and introduce a more intimate model that allows nurses more time with fewer patients, hospital officials announced at the time.

“A year after telling the public that the hospital would end this practice, nothing has changed at the hospital,” Rada said.

“The union’s use of the term ‘team nursing’ is a misnomer; all patient care is done under a team model,” Puelo said.

“The issue is who is on the team, and the hospital on its own decided last year to use a primary registered nurse model and has started the transition. The hospital and the union agree in this approach.”

Talks have also stalled on the issue of nurses’ safety, said registered nurse Leslie Curtis, lead negotiator representing registered nurses at the hospital.

Specifically, nurses at Henry Mayo want terms written into their contract that “lift teams” would be made available to lift heavy patients.

Curtis said nurses are injured at the hospital every year attempting to lift heavy patients.

When it comes to staffing, Henry Mayo remains in full compliance with all applicable laws, which are “designed to provide the best care to the patients and community,” Puelo said.

The California Nurses Association/ National Nurses United is the nation’s largest U.S. RN professional association and union. It represents 170,000 RNs, including some 75,000 California nurses.





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