Registered Nurses at Tacoma General Hold Informational Picket During Stalled Contract Negotiations

Jan 19, 2010, 13:30 ET from Washington State Nurses Association

TACOMA, Wash., Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), representing more than 750 registered nurses at Tacoma General Hospital, held an informational picket and press conference today to highlight issues critical to patient safety and nurse retention. During the press conference, registered nurses spoke out about how the administration's proposals will negatively affect patient safety and the need to keep Tacoma General's wages and benefits competitive with other hospitals in the area. Bringing support and solidarity from across the state and nation, WSNA President Julia Weinberg, RN, and National Federation of Nurses (NFN) President Barbara Crane, RN, joined the Tacoma General nurses in calling on the administration to bring a new, fair proposal to the table.

While the hospital is operating at a profit, the administration has proposed no substantial wage increases over the life of the contract. Registered nurses at Tacoma General have already made sacrifices to help alleviate the financial burden on the hospital, accepting an increase in their personal share of health care costs just three months ago. The concern is that stagnant wages will make it more difficult to recruit and retain nurses at Tacoma General with the possibility of losing experienced nurses to competitors in the area.

"Today is a wakeup call for the administration. We are standing up and demanding that the administration value the work that nurses do and provide them with a fair wage and benefits package. These nurses showed a commitment to Tacoma General when they stepped up and personally took on extra costs for health care. Now it's time for the hospital to show that same commitment and respect for their nurses. I just find it shocking that while the hospital is making money, they're turning around and telling us that they won't increase wages," said Christine Himmelsbach, MSN, RN, Assistant Executive Director of Labor Relations for WSNA.

"We're out here today picketing and speaking out because we want Tacoma General to be a great place for nurses and patients. We are in the midst of a growing nursing shortage. If our wages are stagnant, I worry that new nurses will look elsewhere for jobs and our experienced nurses will start leaving for better employment options. That's bad for patients and bad for nurses at Tacoma General," added Sally Baque, a registered nurse at Tacoma General

Patient safety is also the nurses' main concern over the hospital's sick leave policy. Nurses must be able to stay home when they are sick and at risk of spreading communicable diseases such as the flu. Additionally, studies show that nurses who are fatigued from working overtime or not getting enough rest between shifts are at a much greater risk for medical and medication errors. It is important that nurses be allowed and encouraged to use sick time when they have not had adequate rest due to overtime work and are unsafe to work the next day. Forcing nurses to use two days of regular paid time off, such as vacation time, before they are able to access their sick time effectively discourages nurses from calling in and that is detrimental to patient safety.

"If I'm sick or haven't had enough rest between my shifts, the safest thing I can do is call in. As a fundamental issue of patient safety, nurses need to be encouraged to stay home when they don't feel fit to work. Limiting our ability to use earned illness time discourages us from calling in because we have to use our own time off or vacation time to stay home. We are still in the midst of a difficult flu season and we need to be aggressive in promoting policies that protect nurse and patient safety," said Marcie Turpin, a registered nurse at Tacoma General.

Founded in 1908, WSNA is the professional organization representing more than 16,000 registered nurses in Washington State.  WSNA effectively advocates for the improvement of health standards and availability of quality health care for all people; promotes high standards for the nursing profession; and advances the professional and economic development of nurses.

SOURCE Washington State Nurses Association