MAHONING VALLEY Nurses prepare to walk out at 3 Forum Health facilities

A Forum executive said today the company is bringing in 'very competent' replacement nurses.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Registered nurses at Northside Medical Center, Tod Children's Hospital and Beeghly emergency and surgery centers were expected to hit the picket lines this afternoon after overwhelmingly rejecting a final contract offer from Forum Health.
Bonnie Lambert, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, said the union's 771 members planned to walk out at 3:30 when their three-year pact expires. YGDNA is a unit of the Ohio Nurses Association.
"We're fighting for our patients, for our families, for our lives and for our profession," she said. "Right now, the nurses would rather fight than give in to this situation."
There was a last-minute meeting with a federal mediator.
Forum officials were seeking a contract extension, which the union rejected this morning.
A panel of Forum executives and doctors said this morning they are obligated to keep all facilities open and operating at full capacity.
Replacements: Michael Cicchillo, chief operating officer of Forum's Mahoning County facilities, said the company is bringing in "very competent" replacement nurses from all over the country.
He would not specify the number, but all are licensed in Ohio.
Dr. Earnest Perry, chairman of the department of surgery, said the recent closings of Southside Medical Center, Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital and Warren General Hospital have cut the number of hospital beds in the region significantly.
"Forum Health has a tremendous responsibility to fill that void," Perry said. "Forum Health must be there for those who depend upon us for their medical needs."
Mandatory overtime: Lambert said mandatory overtime and staffing shortages are the main sticking points in the talks, which began in early March, but wages and other financial issues also remain unresolved.
She said nurses are often required to continue working after an eight-, 10- or 12-hour shift, sometimes up to 16 hours.
"Our nurses get tired, and when that happens, there's always a window for making a mistake. Besides, our nurses have families that they want to go home to."
Many nurses have left their jobs at Forum Health because of the mandatory overtime policy and staffing shortages. It is discouraging young people from entering the nursing profession, she said.
Company response: Evonne Woloshyn, a Forum spokeswoman, said the company's most recent proposal would have virtually eliminated mandatory overtime over the three years.
Cicchillo said the company has offered several solutions to the mandatory overtime problem but must weigh it against the importance of providing quality care.
"When that call button is pushed, someone has to be there to answer it," he said.
He said the hospital's most recent contract offer would have provided wage increases of 3 percent annually over three years.
He said Forum nurses already are among the most highly compensated in Ohio.
"We hope the community will support us. They see us working at 11 a.m., then they see us still working at 11 p.m. They know what goes on," Lambert said.
Talks reached an impasse Sunday, and Lambert said the YGDNA had a series of five closed-door meetings Monday at the Saxon Club in Austintown to give members a chance to vote on Forum's final offer.
She said the nurses "overwhelmingly rejected" the company's proposal. Union members authorized a strike 10 days ago.
Not affected is the immediate care center at Beeghly Medical Park and Forum's facilities in Trumbull County.
Lambert, who has been employed at Northside Medical Center since 1982 and works as a labor and delivery-room nurse, said the walkout would be the second for YGDNA. The union also went on strike in 1974.
At St. E's: Another contract deadline is looming at St. Elizabeth Health Center, operated by Humility of Mary Health Partners, the Valley's second major health-care provider.
That contract expires May 9 for about 850 members of Teamsters Local 377 representing a wide range of workers in maintenance, building trades, housekeeping, secretarial, clerk and cafeteria positions.

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