The hospital says only three of 500 nurses working on an average day were required to work overtime.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A full-page Forum Health newspaper advertisement is fueling angry comments from striking nurses at the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association strike headquarters.
The advertisement, published in The Vindicator's Sunday editions, addressed mandatory overtime, the issue the nurses union has said is the main sticking point in contract talks with Forum.
Members of the YGDNA hit the picket lines last Tuesday, and contract talks were held Monday for the first time since the walkout began.
Quoting statistics for the first quarter of 2001, the ad says 97 percent of all nursing overtime during that period was voluntary and only three of 500 nurses working on an average day were required to work overtime.
The average mandatory overtime shift was 4.7 hours, according to the ad, and the company's total nursing overtime is comparable to national benchmarks.
What nurse says: Melinda Russell said 4.7 hours of overtime adds up to a 17-hour day for nurses working a 12-hour shift.
"I have a 3-year-old child at home and my husband works afternoons," said Russell, a 19-year veteran of the neonatal intensive care unit at Tod Children's Hospital. "What do I do when they tell me I can't go home? I've known nurses who have had to bring their kids to work because they couldn't find a baby sitter."
She said the term voluntary is misleading. "Sure, we volunteer, because somebody has to do it," she explained.
"A lot of times somebody is mandated who has already worked 12 hours and has to come in and do it the next day, so we volunteer so they can go home and get some sleep."
Forum proposal: The advertisement also spelled out a proposal Forum offered the YGDNA two weeks ago, which it said would "phase out and virtually eliminate mandatory overtime over the term of the contract."
Nurses would be asked to volunteer for overtime and be given a monetary incentive to do so under the plan, and overtime would be mandated only if and when those options had been exhausted.
Limits would be placed on the number of times a nurse could be mandated to work overtime.
"Their answer to overtime is more overtime," argued Mary Beth Potts, a cardio-thoracic intensive care nurse for 17 years.
Nurses object to the way Forum uses the mandatory overtime, said Debbie Shane, who has worked 10 years as a float nurse in the medical-surgical department.
"It should be used in a crisis, in emergencies only," she said, "but now it's used as a staffing tool."
Won't discuss it: Forum spokeswoman Evonne Woloshyn would not discuss the overtime data, which were released for the first time in the ad Sunday. "I think it speaks for itself," she said. "I'm trying very hard not to debate the issues in the media."
She declined to provide more statistics on mandatory overtime covering all of 2000 and 1999.
"Right now we're putting all our effort into what's happening at the bargaining table," she said.
In a related matter, the YGDNA members said several nurses have accepted permanent and per-diem jobs elsewhere.
Shane said many have been forced to go job-hunting because the nurses' health benefits were canceled the day they walked out.
"One nurse was offered jobs at three nursing homes in one day," she said.
Woloshyn referred questions about nurses' accepting jobs elsewhere to YGDNA.