Prime nurses strike ends; concerns grow over Philadelphia hospital sale

A five-day strike has ended involving members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals from two Prime Healthcare hospitals; Norristown, Pa.-based Suburban Community Hospital and Bristol, Pa.-based Lower Bucks Hospital. 

"In the here and now, Prime Healthcare needs to invest in its nursing staff in order to provide future generations with high quality critical care close to home," a PASNAP spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's.

The strike, which began Dec. 22, was authorized by union members in early December after labor contracts lapsed on Oct. 11, resulting in ongoing negotiations for a new deal with Ontario, Calif.-based Prime.

"Suburban Community Hospital and Lower Bucks Hospital are continuing to bargain in good faith with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals leadership to reach an agreement in the best interests of our hospitals, employees, and, most importantly, those we serve. However, the parties have not scheduled other dates for bargaining," Michelle Aliprantis, Regional Director of Marketing and Communications at Prime Healthcare, told Becker's in a statement.

While Prime told Becker's in an initial statement that its union proposals, "would increase wages and provide a valuable healthcare plan, maintain important benefits, and be competitive with other hospitals in the market," the union said issues that members raise during ongoing negotiations remain unaddressed. 

Along with the strike, union members have also pointed to concerns regarding three Philadelphia-based hospitals that are reportedly up for sale.

While the names of the three hospitals were not confirmed in an email notice from Los Angeles-based investment bank Xnergy obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the notice did describe the hospital's owner as one that has acute care facilities with an average of 136 beds.

The notice description fits the bed parameters of three Philadelphia-area hospitals: Lower Bucks, Suburban Community, Philadelphia-based Roxborough Memorial Hospital; all owned by Prime Healthcare.

"Prime Healthcare's mission is to always do what's best for our communities and patients, however, we do not comment on strategic merger and acquisition initiatives," Elizabeth Nikels, vice president of communications and public relations for Prime Healthcare, said in an initial email response to Becker's regarding the sale. 

Lower Bucks and Suburban Community were both involved in the five-day nursing strikes that ended Dec. 27, and union representatives told Becker's they still don't have clarification on if these two hospitals are part of the sale. 

"Never, in months of bargaining, did Prime mention the possibility of a sale," the PASNAP spokesperson said. 

"When we requested additional bargaining dates prior to the strike to continue negotiations and our conversation, management refused. Then, in a letter to staff dated 12/22 – the first day of our strike – Sonia Mehta, MD, Region II Chief Executive Officer, Corporate Chief Medical Officer & Chief Academic Officer with Prime Healthcare, wrote: "We recently initiated exploring partnerships and collaborations with academic centers. Academic centers and behavioral health providers could better serve the ever-evolving community needs during this ongoing mental health crisis."

If both Lower Bucks and Suburban Community are sold, the union workers told Becker's they hope that both hospitals will become part of a nonprofit system.

"We believe it's incredibly important that Suburban Community Hospital and Lower Bucks Hospital remain critical care hospitals for the health and well-being of their patient communities," the PASNAP spokesperson said.

Becker's has reached out to Prime for an updated statement regarding the sale of the three hospitals. 

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