No hiring will take place until the 61-day-old nurses strike ends, a Forum official said.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Forum Health officials say they're stepping up their nurse recruiting efforts to alleviate a longtime nursing shortage, a major factor in the 61-day strike by Forum registered nurses.
Mike Chicchillo, chief operating officer for Forum's Mahoning County facilities, said newspaper advertisements offering $3,000 sign-on bonuses have helped bring in a stack of applications and r & eacute;sum & eacute;s. Forum also hired a full-time nurse recruiter who is set to start work Aug. 1.
To hire after strike: The hospital is contacting candidates who have applied to explain that it will begin hiring as soon as the nurses' walkout ends. In the meantime, Forum is using about 200 replacement nurses supplied by an out-of-state agency to continue operations.
"Because of the work stoppage, I don't feel it's fair to bring new nurses into this type of environment. It's not fair to make them start out as replacement nurses," Chicchillo said. "There's got to be a team in the nursing realm. We want everybody to be able to work together when the strike is over."
But Bonnie Lambert, president of the striking Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, said the hospital's recruiting efforts are "too little, too late."
"The sad part is, that stack of applications was there long before we walked out the door," she said. "And when they did hire 14 nurses between January and March, all but two of them quit because of poor working conditions."
Major issue: Mandatory overtime is the major sticking point in the strike, and nurses say the hospital forced them to work up to 16 hours at a stretch because of understaffing. Members of YGDNA, which represents 771 registered nurses at Forum's Mahoning County facilities, walked out May 1.
Lambert said the striking nurses fear Northside Medical Center, Tod Children's Hospital and Beeghly Medical Center will be even more short-staffed when the walkout ends because some union members have taken other jobs.
Neither the union nor Forum can say how many YGDNA nurses are now permanently employed elsewhere.
Chicchillo acknowledged that Forum, like health-care companies across the country, has struggled with a nursing shortage. He said Forum has used sign-on bonuses as a recruiting tool for and offered its employees a $500 "finders fee" for bringing in a new employee.
He would not name the new nurse recruiter but said she is a registered nurse herself. She will expand the company's recruiting efforts at area colleges as well as schools outside the area, he said, with a special emphasis on students who are native to the Mahoning Valley. "We want to bring these young nursing students back home."
More recruiting help: Three agencies -- Trumbull Memorial Women's Auxiliary, the Woman's Board of Western Reserve Care System and the Trumbull Memorial Foundation -- also help with recruiting from within by offering financial assistance to Forum employees who want to study to be nurses or nurses who want to specialize in a medical field.
Chicchillo said Forum is hiring new nurses for Trumbull Memorial Hospital, and offers the same sign-on bonus and employee referral incentives there. TMH and Forum's other Trumbull County facilities, along with its Austintown Medical Center, are not affected by the walkout.
Rally set: YGDNA is inviting other area labor unions to join its members in a rally at 3 p.m. Sunday to mark their two months on the picket line. Lambert said the nurses will meet to march and picnic on the sidewalk outside Northside and Tod hospitals on Gypsy Lane.
Lambert said the YGDNA is now affiliated with the AFL-CIO, after a unanimous vote to join this week at the convention of the American Nurses Association and the United American Nurses in Washington, D.C. YGDNA is affiliated with the ANA, the UNA and the Ohio Nurses Association.