Summa Health CNO to nurses: 'Remain union free'

Akron, Ohio-based Summa Health CNO Lanie Ward, RN, on Tuesday sent a memo to nurses in an attempt to stymie possible efforts to unionize, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

Ms. Ward sent the memo, titled "Rumor Control," to registered nurses at Summa Health's Akron City, Barberton St. Thomas and Wadsworth Rittman hospitals and satellite emergency rooms after hearing rumors that a "small group of Akron City nurses, primarily from the emergency department," have been in talks with a statewide nurse's union. The memo includes a description of the hospital's position against nursing unions, as well as potential repercussions for the individuals who join unions, according to the report.

"Although Summa recognizes the right of nurses to choose to be represented by a union, or to choose to not be represented by a union, we believe it is in the best interests of our nurses and our organization for our nurses to remain union free," Ms. Ward wrote in the memo.

Summa Health's nearly 1,800 registered nurses could be affected by a unionizing effort.

David Liu, co-chair of the Ohio Nurses Association's bargaining unit at Cleveland Clinic Akron Hospital, said no nurses from Summa Health have contacted him about forming a union, but he "would love to have them with us," according to the report.

At the beginning of 2017, turmoil arose at Summa following the abrupt switch of Summa's ED physician group. The change prompted a vote of no confidence in the health system's leadership and ultimately led to the resignation of president and CEO Thomas Malone, MD. Following the switch, nine Summa ER nurses told the Akron Beacon Journal they believed physicians from the new ER group put patients' lives in danger. In early February, the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education placed the health system's emergency medicine residency program on probation and rescinded its accreditation after the health system lost its appeal in March.

Ms. Ward acknowledged the tension that has persisted since the New Year, but urged the nurses to continue to work with the health system to mollify its concerns.

"I understand that our organization, and in particular our nurses, have faced many challenges recently," she wrote, according to the report. "However, I believe we have all worked together to successfully meet those challenges and will continue to do so in the future. It is critical that we be able to effectively work together to address those issues without the intervention of a union."

The memo also described possible drawbacks of joining a union. Ms. Ward wrote, "[M]any promises are made, such as better pay, better benefits and better working conditions. However, a union cannot guarantee that it will be able to obtain any of those things... pay, benefits and working conditions can remain unchanged, increase, or even decrease."

She added that unions' tendency to strike during negotiations can be harmful to patients and nurses' jobs. "Patient care is disrupted, relationships between employees are often harmed, and striking employees not only lose pay and benefits, but they also risk being permanently replaced," she wrote, according to the report. "Strikes are generally very harmful to both the employees and the organization."

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