Preparing for a long, hot summer

Ellen Sullivan, RN (left) and Fran Hawthorne, RN (right) discuss the ongoing ED staffing petition drive at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center.

The temperature isn’t the only thing heating up on Long Island as summer approaches. Members at three Catholic Health Services of Long Island (CHSLI) hospitals have recently begun contract renewal negotiations. CHSLI is comprised of six acute hospitals under common management and collectively employing over 3,000 RNs. About 1,000 of the nurses at three of the hospitals — St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital and St. Charles Hospital — are represented by NYSNA. Nurses at CHSLI’s other facilities — St. Francis, Good Samaritan and Mercy — have no union representation.

Priority is safe staffing

Contracts expired at the end of March at both St. Charles and St. Joseph and in mid-May at St. Catherine; all three have extended their agreements to allow time for negotiations (until July 17 at St. Charles and June 30 at the other two) and have surveyed members for contract priorities. While they will bargain independently of each other, members formed the Catholic Health Services Nurses’ Committee to “keep communication flowing between the negotiating committees,” according to Mike Healy, RN and NYSNA board member.

“With the hospitals under common management, we know they are talking to each other, so we need to keep each other in the loop, too,” he added. The committee has met twice thus far and will meet monthly for the duration of bargaining.

Safe staffing is the number one bargaining priority at each hospital. Pensions are also a key issue at St. Charles and St. Catherine of Sienna, where members are participants of a non-ERISA fund run by the Diocese of Rockville Center.

In a first for these hospitals, negotiations are open and all interested members are encouraged to attend bargaining sessions.

The CHSLI nurses are looking forward to presenting proposals and achieving gains that will benefit their patients, profession, and their families.

St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center

Nurses in the Emergency Room at the Smithtown hospital are serious about fixing the staffing crisis in their department. While negotiations proceed, they’ve started a petition drive to bring the issue directly to the attention of CEO Dr. Alan Guerci. Thus far, 85 percent of the unit has signed on.

Fran Hawthorne, RN, says working in St. Catherine’s ED is “grueling work that is unsatisfactory without proper staffing and administrative support.” Her colleague Ellen Sullivan added: “When staff is needed to replace a sick call or for an increase in census or acuity, there are no resources to pull from.” Both have signed the petition and look forward to meeting with Dr. Guerci. The St. Catherine nurses are determined to stand united to improve both ED staffing and patient care.

St. Charles Hospital

Safe staffing is the top bargaining priority for nurses at the Port Jefferson hospital. The expiring contract includes staffing guidelines, but “they haven’t worked and are the focus of a current arbitration,” according to Tracy Kosciuk, RN and Vice President of the NYSNA Executive Committee. “With rising acuity, nurses — and our patients — are more than ever in need of staffing safeguards with enforcement teeth,” she said. “We want to be able to care for our patients to the best of our abilities. Without strong staffing ratios, based on sound research, nurses are stretched too thin and it puts our patients at risk,” she added. “That’s why we’re lobbying for legislation, too. Nurses’ experience with mandatory overtime taught us that some problems are so pervasive they can only be permanently solved through political means.”

St. Joseph Hospital

Registered nurses at St. Joseph want to see their new contract improve upon rolling staffing grids, a model adopted in 2011 under which RNs were to be added whenever census met specified thresholds. “We were hoping that rolling staffing grids would take a fluctuating census into account and meet the needs of nurses while giving management some relief. But the model has not delivered, and staffing remains an issue,” according to Jenmarie Byrnes, RN and LBU President at St. Joseph. The nurses have taken rolling staffing grids through the grievance process and are now awaiting arbitration. Ms. Byrnes said the St. Joseph nurses “will keep looking until we find a system that works, enabling us to give our patients the attention and care they deserve and to keep them safe.”

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