Union representatives and state lawmakers continue to call on Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which owns ValleyCare Northside Medical Center, to drop a plan they say will severely diminish patient care at the facility.
The Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, which represents 400 nurses at Northside, along with its affiliate, the Ohio Nurses Association — a statewide union — had a town-hall meeting Monday to discuss the state of contract negotiations. The session was at the Youngstown Saxon Club pavilion on Meridian Road.
Registered nurses at Northside, located on Gypsy Lane, have been without a contract for nearly a year, and they have not had a raise in seven years.
A major impediment to any collective-bargaining agreement, said Eric Williams, president of YGDNA, is a proposal from CHS to “downstaff.”
Under the plan, the hospital could cancel nurses’ shifts on short notice when fewer patients are in for treatment, and then they would be called back just in time to meet an influx of newly admitted patients.
This “nurse rationing,” as Williams called it, will “hurt the quality of health care” at the hospital.
“The public needs to be concerned,” Williams added. “You do not want the best and brightest nurses to leave this area because they can’t reach a collective- bargaining agreement. We are fighting for the community, the patients and the nurses themselves.”
But in a statement from ValleyCare Health Systems of Ohio, spokeswoman Trish Hrina said Northside is committed to efficient operations and practices that support quality patient care.
“The Ohio Nurses Association at Hillside and four other bargaining units representing nurses and other employees across ValleyCare Health System of Ohio have within the last year ratified labor agreements with terms similar to those we have proposed to the Ohio Nurses Association at Northside,” she wrote.
CHS already has reached agreements with nurses at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, both of which the company owns.
Hrina said the agreements include flexibility in scheduling and follow a standard practice across the hospital industry. She added that the hospital’s contract proposal includes wage increases and comprehensive benefits.
State lawmakers, including state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, state Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, and state Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, pledged their support for the nurses at the meeting.
“I share your concerns,” Cafaro told a crowd of about 20. “We need to make sure those in the health-care workforce have a level of consistency. We join the chorus of voices to say it is imperative to maintain a proper patient-staff ratio.”
Union representatives from Northside will meet with CHS officials July 16 for the next negotiating session. Williams said he will be focused on eliminating the downstaffing plan and is hopeful both sides can come to an agreement.