Pennsylvania hospital nurses, in talks over a year, set strike date

Nurses at Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) General Hospital intend to strike Feb. 13 unless an agreement on staffing and patient care issues is reached, The Citizens' Voice reported.

The nurses are represented by the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

Union officials said in a news release that are prepared to strike for one day, only if necessary. They said they have told hospital management they are willing to negotiate every day until an agreement is reached. The next bargaining date is set for Jan. 24.

"We're hopeful that we can reach agreement at Thursday's session and a strike can be averted," said Elaine Weale, registered nurse and president of WVNA. "Recent [Pennsylvania] Department of Health citations verified the concerns with staffing and patient care that we have been raising for years. Management has not yet agreed to fix these serious problems to our satisfaction, and we continue to urge them to put patients before profits."

Union officials pointed to a Pennsylvania Department of Health inspection report issued in November following an unannounced visit. The report found a "systemic nature of standard-level deficiencies" related to patient rights, nursing services and emergency services.

Hospital spokesperson Renita Fennick told The Citizens' Voice that  hospital representatives have been at the bargaining table for more than a year with the "strongest intent to reach a new agreement."

"We've been active participants in more than 20 bargaining sessions, most of which have been under the auspices of the federal mediation and conciliation service," she said.

Negotiations have been contentious at times. On May 31, nurses went on strike, primarily over staffing.

Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, which is owned by Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, expects to implement a contingency operations plan if a strike takes place.


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