Virtua union representing 1.5k nurses votes to strike if necessary

A union representing 1,500 registered nurses at Marlton, N.J.-based Virtua Health voted March 6 to strike if necessary after complaining nurses are frequently too busy to take a break during shifts or take earned days off, according to a Courier-Post report.

The union filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Health in September about Virtua's inadequate staffing levels and failure to follow state hospital licensing standards.

Virtua Voorhees (N.J.) Hospital "failed to ensure that the patient care assignments were made on an individual basis and reflect patient care needs to staff the ICU," according to a deficiency citation. Virtua was cited for the deficiency by not including "the complexity of the patient" on the assignment sheet, but was not cited for lacking an acuity system. A multidisciplinary sheet with patient complexity is used to review the patient complexity, but will be used going forward with the assignment for nurses, according to Virtua officials. The state Department of Health accepted this action. 

In the DOH's deficiency letter, they confirmed the hospital's patient to registered nurse staffing ratio was typically 2:1 and sometimes 1:1 and that 3:1 ratios do not happen often. The state regulation for staffing in the intensive care unit is 3:1. 

The health system has been working on a new contract with the union since January, according to a statement from Virtua released March 7. The health system provided several proposals to address the nurses' concerns. It also offered to use its newly implemented EHR system through EPIC, to help determine appropriate staffing levels by 2019.  

The health system said its leadership is willing to continue negotiations. "Virtua is committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement that will allow the health system to continue to recruit and retain nursing professionals who deliver the highest quality patient care," Virtua's statement reads.

Editor's note: This article was updated on March 16 at 2:16 p.m. CT to correct a previous inaccuracy, which said state inspectors cited Virtua Voorhees (N.J.) Hospital for inadequate staffing in its intensive care units. Virtua was not cited for not having an acuity system. Becker's regrets the error. As an update, the Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization members ratified a 3-year contract March 15.

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