Wilkes-Barre RNs Take Strike Notice Authorization Vote, Release Hospital Report
WILKES-BARRE, PA - On Tuesday, registered nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital are holding a vote to authorize their union bargaining committee to send a 10-day strike notice to hospital management at their discretion.
The union nurses also released a report on conditions within the hospital including a financial review of its owner, Community Health Systems.
Wyoming Valley Nurses Association’s report titled “The State of Our Hospital” details staffing issues at the hospital and the effects on patients. The report highlights that Wilkes-Barre General Hospital has earned a total profit of $11 million in the last three years, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), and alleges that Community Health Systems (CHS) is not investing in proper staffing, even as executive salaries have nearly doubled over the same period.
CHS is the largest for-profit hospital company in the United States and purchased Wyoming Valley Health Systems in 2008. Their hospital system in northeast Pennsylvania includes six hospitals operating as “Commonwealth Health”.
Elaine Weale, RN and union president of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association, said, “We are sounding the alarm, calling on this company to fully staff their area hospitals because proper patient care depends on proper nurse staffing. We became nurses as a service to our community and because we want to make a difference in our patients’ lives at their greatest times of need. This company, however, continues to put profits before patients.”
Studies show that every additional patient-per-nurse in a Pennsylvania hospital increases that patient’s risk of death by seven percent. Research from other states suggests that short-staffing increases patients’ risk of death by between four and six percent. This risk is higher within the first five days of admission.
After a PA Department of Health inspection in September, the state cited the hospital for a “systemic nature of non-compliance with regards to nursing services” stating that management “failed to schedule a sufficient number of RNs and/or ancillary staff on the nursing units for 81 of 148 shifts reviewed.” 
In the Emergency Department, a “30 minutes or less pledge” to be seen by a physician or physician’s assistant is advertised by CHS on local television and radio stations, but the union highlights that PA DOH inspectors found a lack of nurses and ancillary staff such as nursing aides, technicians, and unit secretaries.
Nurses are concerned that, once admitted, patients can be left in Emergency Department hallway beds for hours due to lack of nurses on the hospital units able to take additional patient assignments.
The report cites the concern that, to handle the overflow of patients, hospital management has also set aside their own 2017 policy for the pediatrics unit that no adult patients with communicable diseases be transferred there due to the presence of children under 14 years old with weaker immune systems.
The union’s report highlights that staffing benchmarks set by Wilkes-Barre General hospital fall short of patient limits proposed in legislation. The Pennsylvania Hospital Patient Protection Act, pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and State Senate, would address RN staffing across the Commonwealth by setting patient limits deemed safe by union nurses for each type of hospital unit.
The Wyoming Valley Nurses Association is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, a union of dedicated nurses and health professionals across Pennsylvania, formed in 2000 and dedicated to the belief that patients receive the best care when clinical care staff has a strong voice to advocate for both patients and themselves. WVNA nurses have been in contract negotiations with the Hospital for the last year with staffing needs in the forefront of their negotiations.
 PHC4, “Financial Analysis 2017, General Acute Care Hospitals” http://www.phc4.org/reports/fin/17/docs/fin2017report_volumeone.pdf
 Morningstar.com, https://www.morningstar.com/stocks/xnys/cyh/quote.html
 Aiken, Clarke, Sloane et al, ‘Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction’, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12387650
[4 ]Needleman et al, ‘Nurse Staffing and Inpatient Hospital Mortality’, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2011, http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMsa1001025 , Harless and Mark, ‘Nurse staffing and quality of care with direct measurement of inpatient staffing’, Medical Care 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20548254
 PA Department of Health findings, November, 2018. https://sais.health.pa.gov/commonpoc/content/publiccommonpoc/PDF/PBUB1187050031100L.PDF
 Nurses of Pennsylvania Legislative Brief https://actionnetwork.org/user_files/user_files/000/025/307/original/Nurses_of_PA_Legislator_Info_8.2.pdf
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