AK: Ketchikan nurses write open letter of grievances in PeaceHealth negotiations

Nurses at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center voted on Jan. 8 to let the Alaska Nurses Association (AaNA) Ketchikan Registered Nurses Bargaining Unit represent their interests in dispute resolution and labor negotiations with the hospital. The AaNA advocacy group represents 1,367 nurses in Ketchikan, Anchorage, and Soldotna.

Yet with contract negotiations at a stale mate and a mediator scheduled to come in on Jan. 26, the nurses are writing for public support.

Below is a letter by Barbara Lander, RN at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

Letter to the Editor:

Labor negotiations are not going well at PEACEHEALTH Ketchikan Medical Center (KMC) : Administration and nurses are at an impasse and will be meeting with a mediator on January 26, 2015. Our Nurses primary issue is concern for our patients: we want more than anything to deliver safe, high quality patient care. Factors that impact our ability to do this are:

1.) WAGES: PEACEHEALTH Ketchikan nurses are paid about 10% less than PEACEHEALTH nurses in other PEACEHEALTH Locations. We rarely attract good experienced Nurses. Many of the newly graduated nurses from our local nursing program grow into excellent nurses; their training and development takes 6 months to a year. Unfortunately even our home grown nurses frequently leave in two years when their contract is up. They go to another community because they can make $5-7 an hour more and enjoy a lower cost of living as well. There has been a 42% turnover in nursing staff at KMC over the past two years!

A core group of nurses will remain in Ketchikan and practice our profession here. Our homes and families are here. We love Ketchikan. However, we are exhausted from orienting the continual flow of new grads, new hires, and temps. We are exhausted by the continual nursing shortages and the resulting extra shifts. We are dismayed at the impact this is having on patient care.

PEACEHEALTH administration has made a series of remarks to justify our sub-standard wages which seem to us to show a complete lack of understanding of Ketchikan. “The cost of living is lower in Ketchikan”. WOW! Lower than where, New York City? They have finally conceded, when presented with overwhelming evidence, that the cost of living is NOT lower in Ketchikan. When presented the fact that all other KMC employees (administration, Therapists, housekeeping, maintenance, nursing assistants, clerical staff) are compensated 3% higher than PEACEHEALTH facilities in Washington and Oregon they explained to us that was the PEACEHEALTH core value of “Social Justice” in action. Their higher wages compensate for the higher cost of living in Ketchikan. But for some unexplainable reason”Social justice” does not apply to Nurses. We are baffled by their remoteness from reality.

Fair wages would surely improve recruitment, and more importantly retention. In the long run the expense of the higher wage will be offset by decreased recruitment costs, decreased cost for temporary nursing staff (who work at a 30-100% premium), and decreased overtime. Significantly, the wage that Ketchikan Nurses seek would only establish parity with the market with NO factor for cost of living!

2.) 24/7 CLINICAL SUPPORT: Ketchikan Nurses are asking for an expert nurse to be available whose only assignment is expert help where and when needed. This nurse would provide support and mentoring for new nurses and a knowledgeable pair of hands in emergencies. KMC is a small critical access hospital and staffing is at bare bone levels. It is almost unheard of to have an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) with only one nurse and no other help; yet for at least 6 hours every day, and frequently more often, is the case at KMC. In the past the nursing supervisors (not part of the union) were all clinical experts and could lend a hand and expertise when needed. The supervisors administrative duties have grown, those with a broad bases of clinical expertise have moved on, resulting in a void in clinical expertise and backup. Union nurses are asking for a position of “Clinical Resource Nurse” to fill this void on night shift. (Day shift gets clinical support from a charge nurse; night shift does not have a charge nurse.)

We Nurses need help and support from OUR community to give Ketchikan the health care it deserves! Please join us as we struggle to provide nursing care we can all be proud of.

While the PEACEHEALTH stated vision is : Every person receives safe, compassionate care; every time, every touch. Nurses are the primary tool to deliver on that promise; please help us achieve that vision.

To express your support contact:

Alan Yordy, President/Chief Mission Officer ayordy@peacehealth.org
Ken Tonjes, Chief Administrative Officer , KMC ktonjes@peacehealth.org
Please send a copy of your letter or email to: ktn_aana@outlook.com

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Barbara Lander RN
Ketchikan, Alaska