Pennsylvania nurses, technologists rally over staffing

Registered nurses and technologists rallied and picketed March 15 at Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) General Hospital, according to a joint union news release.  

Participants in the protest were from Wilkes-Barre General, First Hospital in Kingston, Pa., and Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Pa. All three facilities are owned by Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems.

The union workers, represented by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania or the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, specifically protested staffing shortages and excessive staff turnover.

"When we're short staffed in our hospital, our patients are not getting the time and attention we want to provide and they deserve," Lee Smith, RN at Moses Taylor Hospital, said in a statement. "We became nurses to make a difference in our patients' lives and to provide the best care possible. We can't provide excellent care when we don't have enough staff and we're being pulled from unit to unit."

One specific issue brought up by nurses was mandatory overtime. Earlier this month, the PASNAP claimed CHS illegally forced nurses to work overtime at Wilkes-Barre General. A spokesperson for Wilkes-Barre General Hospital at the time told Becker's Hospital Review "the matter is far from complete," and the hospital is "confident the thorough documentation we provided proves the hospital's compliance with the law regarding mandatory overtime."

As workers rallied and picketed, they also alleged incidences where the hospital "floated nurses from maternity to medical-surgical units and back" and "understaffed mental health units," according to the unions.

Hospital officials provided the following statement to Becker's: "Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is operating as usual today and our top priority is the care and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. We appreciate all of our caregivers who are working to meet patients' needs.  All inpatient, outpatient and emergency services are available and all surgeries and diagnostic procedures are continuing as scheduled."

The rallying and picketing comes as union contracts at all three Pennsylvania hospitals have expired. Union officials said nurses at Moses Taylor and First Hospital, along with technicians at First Hospital, agreed to authorize a strike if both sides don't reach a tentative labor deal on staffing issues during upcoming negotiations.


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