By John Rossfeld, CEO, Antelope Valley Hospital
On September 28, Antelope Valley Hospital experienced a nursing strike for the first time in its 61-year history. Despite this and thanks to the hard work of so many dedicated health professionals — not to mention our sheriffs, firefighters, ambulance companies and the community at large — the hospital continues to provide excellent patient care just as we have done throughout our history. Unfortunately, expediency and political impact are the highest priorities when a strike occurs. This is clear in the debate over the replacement nurses that stepped in and helped keep the hospital running efficiently.
Let’s face it, walkouts and strikes are aimed at creating public awareness and support for whatever cause is at stake. We understand and expect that. This is why the California Nurses Association (CNA) campaign is framed around “protecting patient care” and “better staffing levels” when their contract demands have NOTHING to do with either of these issues. You don’t see picketers carrying signs saying “We want a 30% raise” because that just doesn’t sell. But then again, that is the political backdrop of a strike.
The CNA has called more than 200 strikes at hospitals throughout California over the last five years and they knew full-well that the hospital would have to pay a substantial amount of money to recruit highly skilled replacement nurses in dozens of disciplines to keep the hospital operating. The CNA left us no choice.
No one should forget that the CNA voted in April and May to call a strike and finally issued a strike notice on September 12. With that as a backdrop our primary obligation was to figure out how to keep our doors open because closing wasn’t an option. Telling a patient in critical condition to go somewhere else wasn’t an option either. Our only option was finding qualified replacements, which we did by executing an agreement with Nurse Bridge to recruit, coordinate and deliver more than 300 licensed nurses in a variety of specialties to maintain normal operations.
Ask yourself, are highly skilled nurses that specialize in disciplines like Neonatal Intensive Care or Trauma sitting around the local region looking to work for a day here and there? Of course not. Such nurses are in high demand and must be recruited from all over the United States. These skilled professionals are unlikely to spend two days travelling back and forth for a single work shift. Similarly, would a nursing company invest the effort in locating and recruiting hundreds of nurses from numerous specialties for a one-day deal? Would it be economical to pay for all that travel and ground transportation for one day of work? Maintaining our commitment to protecting patient care meant selecting a company like Nurse Bridge. Again, the CNA knew this when they chose to strike.
For our part, we took every reasonable step to avoid the strike to begin with, including providing additional invitations to bargain, submitting a request to withdraw or delay the strike, and offering a new proposal for their consideration. Sadly, none of that worked, which is why we are here today.
We know that negotiating a new contract that balances numerous priorities can be difficult, but it can be done if both parties work together in good faith. We saw this last month when we finalized a new contract with another union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
We are committed to securing a fair agreement with our nurses as well — a contract that rewards their excellence and demonstrates our appreciation for their effort.
Hospitals are like little cities that rely on the teamwork of a diverse group of professionals to function properly. We know that nurses are important members of our community and we value their service beyond words. We want to bring them back to the hospital, return to the bargaining table and forge a fair deal for all. Just as we did with SEIU, I know we can secure a win-win agreement but not until they return to the table. All they have to do is say the word.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The AV Times.
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