Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Nurses asked
back to talks

Negotiations are set to resume this week
for nurses at Queen’s and St. Francis

By Lyn Danninger

Negotiations between the union representing striking nurses at the Queen's Medical Center and St. Francis Medical Center are set to resume later this week.

"We were called by the federal mediator to come back on Friday," said St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett.

The talks are scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jarrett said.

The discussions with St. Francis will be the first between the two sides since 340 nurses began striking Dec. 2.

Talks between Queen's and its nurses will resume at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Hawaii Employers Council, according to the Hawaii Nurses Association.

The request to return to the bargaining table came from Queen's, said Sue Scheider, director of collective bargaining for the union.

Nurses and Queen's traded accusations last week after talks broke down and the hospital purchased full-page newspaper advertisements to lay out its position.

Queen's believes both sides can reach a deal, said Gail Tiwanak, vice president marketing and communication.

"We asked the Hawaii Employers Council, our negotiators, to inquire with the HNA for areas of compromise so that an agreement could be reached," Tiwanak said.

At St. Francis Medical Center -- which cut back many of its services, reduced the number of inpatients and laid off more than 140 ancillary staff -- a number of previously canceled patient services will resume in the next few days.

The hospital has contracted for an additional 29 replacement nurses to begin work Thursday, Jarrett said.

The new nurses from the mainland will bring the number of temporary replacement nurses hired so far by St. Francis to 35.

Jarrett said that with no end in sight to the strike, the hospital needed to resume revenue-producing services such as surgery.

Meanwhile, 820 striking nurses employed at Queen's will lose their medical benefits beginning tomorrow.

The nurses will join their counterparts at St. Francis and Kuakini Medical Center, who lost their health coverage Dec. 1.

All three hospitals must offer striking nurses coverage through the COBRA plan, a federal requirement that extends health insurance to employees who leave their jobs. Nurses can opt to continue coverage at their own expense.

But the cost of health insurance has some Queen's nurses worried about how they will cover themselves and their families.

Queen's labor and delivery nurse Laura Greer has a husband and three children who are normally covered under her medical plan. But the cost of her medical plan could run around $900 a month for a family, she said.

With 60 days to decide whether to take the coverage, Greer said she may wait on signing up in the hopes a settlement can be reached.

But she knows it is a risk.

"I have three young kids," she said.

Nurse Wade Hareld got caught up on his dental work before the strike began, because he knew the striking nurses might have to pay for their own insurance coverage.

Like Greer, he is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"It's going to be pretty expensive per month, especially for those people with families," Hareld said.

St. Francis Healthcare System
Queen's Medical Center
Kuakini Health System

Hawaii Nurses Association

E-mail to City Desk


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