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Registered Nurses at Yakima Regional Medical Center Hold Informational Picket to Highlight Patient Safety Concerns During Stalled Contract Negotiations

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Nursing Profession News J E 4
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SPOKANE, Wash., April 26 The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), representing nearly 250 registered nurses at Yakima Regional Medical Center, is holding an informational picket today to highlight issues critical to patient safety. Contract negotiations have stalled over several key concerns including limiting opportunities for nurses to provide input on patient care, reducing the ability to recruit and retain nurses, and decreasing the amount of time nurses are allotted for continuing education.

The hospital has proposed drastically reducing the ability for nurses to advocate for patients and provide input on patient care issues by entirely removing the Conference Committee from the hospital. Conference Committees are a standard practice among hospitals in Washington and provide a forum for nurses to have a free exchange of issues and ideas with management. It is one of the only opportunities for feedback where nurses and managers are equally represented. Nurses are highly concerned about the effect on patient care if such a change is made.

"Numerous studies have shown that having nurses involved in decision making is a key factor in improving patient care. It is just shocking that the hospital would want to get rid of something that so clearly benefits both nurses and patients. Most hospitals recognize that they can learn a lot from the people who are caring for their patients on a daily basis and have a unique perspective about what's working and what isn't. Without a Conference Committee, nurses will find it harder and harder to have their voices heard on patient care, nursing practice and workplace safety issues. That's not acceptable for the nurses at Yakima Regional or for the members of this community that come here," said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, WSNA Assistant Executive Director of Labor Relations.

The administration is also proposing numerous cutbacks despite the fact that the hospital continues to operate at a profit. Nurses are concerned that reductions to benefits and stagnant wages will hurt the hospital's ability to recruit and retain the best nurses in the region. Management's current proposal would reduce paid time off significantly for nurses, with some seeing a 26% reduction in accrued vacation time per year. The policy is even more severe for newly hired nurses who would not be able to accrue or use any vacation time in their first year.

"We want to keep our great nurses here at Yakima Regional while making sure that we can continue to recruit and hire bright, new nurses. Their proposal to slash vacation time, cut our education opportunities, and offer no wage increases next year shows a lack of commitment and respect for the nurses here and the work we do keeping patients healthy and safe every day. Vacation time is our opportunity to rest and recuperate so that we're fresh and sharp when we need to be. I worry that nurses will look elsewhere for employment if the administration doesn't step up with a fair contract," said Julia Barcott, a registered nurse at Yakima Regional Medical Center.

The hospital has also proposed slashing the amount of time nurses are allotted for continuing education. By cutting the education time from 40 hours to 24 hours per year - a 40% reduction - the hospital is making it harder for nurses to stay up to date on rapidly changing medical technology, best practices, and research. The proposed reductions also include less flexibility in the use of the time, eliminating the ability to attend a multi-day training or conference.

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
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