Friday, May 6, 2011

A hospital on the right path

When we first met Karen she was having one of her typical crazy days between her busy shift at work and home life.Some of her fellow nurses were starting to look into organizing a union at her hospital.Let's look in on her eight years later .....
Her oldest, Greg, has been accepted at UCONN for, you guessed it, nursing. Alex, now 11, is interested in two things, hockey and girls. James is still working at the aerospace firm but he went back to school and now does computer assisted drafting.And Karen? Karen returned to school also, part time, and now has a masters in nursing education. Last year she started working as a clinical instructor for the local community college. She still also works at the hospital, now in Same Day Surgery.How did they get here?They organized. After the election nurses realized they had a new voice, even before they had a contract. They could no longer be disciplined or dismissed without a fair hearing. Policies could not be changed without their input. Pay and benefits could not be reduced. The first contract took ten months to negotiate. They did not get everything they wanted, but they got a lot of it and they got it in writing. Future contacts brought more improvements. Now they know what their raises will be each year. They stopped having a revolving door of policies and istead policy changes were made jointly by management and the nurses based on how well they were working. They negotiated improved tuition reimbursement, which allowed Karen to return to school. The optional hospital match to the 403B was no longer optional, it was in the contract. The biggest change is the increased voice of the nurses. A committee of nurses and management now handle safe staffing issues, a committee with real power. Staffing is based on patient acuity and nurse experience. A bonus for Karen is the union scholarship that Greg is getting next year.
Shortly after the first contract was signed the CEO "retired". The new CEO promised better cooperation but little improved. He lasted a few years and then he "retired" also. The newest CEO seems to want to work together and seems to really respect not only the nurses but all staff. The hospital is on the right path again. Retention is up, staff is respected, pay and benefits are improved. The rest of the hospital has formed two other locals of the same union. Because hospital staff is now included in decisions, costs have decreased in many areas. The hospital now has an improved health insurance at a lower cost because of the expertise of union locals across the country. Karen and James still have the concerns of any couple with children but working together they are strong and find solutions, just as Karen and her fellow nurses have at the hospital.

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