Time is running out for the state’s largest hospital and a nurses’ union to come to an agreement on a contract that expires July 9.
A local nurses’ union says its members are prepared to strike July 10 if they cannot reach an agreement with Fletcher Allen Health Care over staffing issues.
Mari Cordes, president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said the primary issue for the union is safe staffing.
Cordes said the union wants to make sure that each aspect of the hospitals has the appropriate number of trained nurses to provide safe care.
“The majority of our proposals have to do with making minor but significant changes that allow for improvement of staffing towards a goal of safe staffing and a healthier workplace for nurses,” Cordes said.
She said studies from the Institute of Medicine and other sources demonstrate that addition of nursing staff and adequate staffing saves more money than it costs up front.
“To suggest we (the administration) don’t care is insulting to everyone involved in providing care at Fletcher Allen.” ~Mike Noble, communications director for Fletcher Allen.
Just what safe staffing means is a point of contention between the hospital administration and the nurses’ union. The union is opposed to proposals from the hospital that would require nurses to float to different areas of care.
Cordes said another issue is how to gauge safe staffing levels. She said the hospital should take a more comprehensive look at the severity of patients’ illnesses to determine how many nurses should be on staff rather than just looking at what is called the “average daily census” — a count of staffed hospital beds that are occupied each day.
The union and the hospital have been bargaining since the beginning of April. With only a few meetings left before the current contract ends, Cordes said nurses and their supporters are prepared to go on strike July 10.
Red “We Support Fletcher Allen Nurses” signs have appeared in lawns in Burlington and Montpelier, and around 100 nurses, union members and members of the Vermont Workers’ Center made an appearance at the Fletcher Allen Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday to air their grievances.
Cordes said the board has changed its meeting times more than once recently when union members had planned to attend the public comment section.
The hospital administration says it has not proposed in any way to reduce nursing staff at the hospital and it is providing the highest quality care it can within budgetary constraints.
Mike Noble, a spokesman for Fletcher Allen, said the hospital has hired 133 new nurses since the beginning of the current fiscal year.
“We work every day to do right-size staffing with the right skills for each unit,” he said.
Noble said the yard signs expressing support for the nurses are unfortunate in that they suggest Fletcher Allen is unwilling to invest in patient care.
“To suggest we don’t care is insulting to everyone involved in providing care at Fletcher Allen,” he said.
The Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen has recently been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as being among the best in the nation, and the hospital was ranked in the top 10 percent of integrated healthcare networks in the country by IMS Health.
Noble said the administration is in no way proposing to reduce staffing in any way. He said the hospital is willing to stay at the bargaining table as long as it takes.
Some nurses took their break or came in on their day off to express their concerns to the board of trustees Tuesday.
Warren Glore, a nurse at Fletcher Allen, said the issue often boils down to the fact that nurses believe they need more resources to take care of patients, who are coming in sicker and sicker, than the hospital does.
“Part of it is there’s always an issue with what we think we need to have to take care of patients and what they think we need,” Glore said.
He said one of the frustrating pieces is that the administration has not laid down all of its proposals in the bargaining process as the union has.
“All they say is ‘nurses aren’t working enough,’” he said. “I’ve been working usually 16 to 20 extra hours a pay period, but if I don’t fill in those holes, they’re really short, and that’s a safety issue.”