Wilcox Hospital prepares for strike
Talks with nurses end; action could be taken next week
LIHUE » After just a half-hour of discussions yesterday, talks between the Hawaii Nurses Association and management at Wilcox Hospital broke off, and both sides began preparing for a strike next Saturday at 7 a.m.
While the nurses are preparing for a halt in their pay, management at Kauai's lone full-service hospital prepared to hire a company to provide replacement nurses to keep Wilcox open.
"We need to keep everything running because we're committed to the community and its people," said Linda Rozelle, a nursing manager in the surgical unit and maternity care at Wilcox Hospital. "We will continue to offer every service."
The nurses say they do not want to go on strike and are willing to negotiate, but management at Hawaii Pacific Health, the organization that runs Wilcox, will not even talk.
"We want to try to avert a strike here," said Hawaii Nurses Association Executive Director Aggie Pigao Cadiz. "They don't want to talk. We can't talk to ourselves."
Despite making concessions on three major issues, D.Q. Jackson, a nurse at Wilcox and spokesman for the negotiation team, said negotiators for Hawaii Pacific Health refused to change their positions yesterday.
At issue is not pay or benefits, the nurses say. They want a system to regulate patient-to-nurse ratios to better protect their patients. The Kapiolani hospitals on Oahu, also part of Hawaii Pacific Health, already have such systems in place.
"The nurses say they can't do their work in the time allotted," said Pigao Cadiz. "They know they could give (better) care if only they gave them the right tools."
But Rozelle, who has been a nurse for more than 40 years, said, "I think we have pretty good numbers to deliver the care we need," adding that at Wilcox, when people call in sick, shifts are covered. "That's a luxury I wasn't used to," she added.
Teri Gomez, a human-resources supervisor at Wilcox, said that management brought to the table a committee of both nurses and experts to look into staffing issues. And, in recently surveys, the hospital has received high marks for patient care.
"We are in line if not better than most places," Rozelle said.
Pigao Cadiz countered that the systems are inexpensive and certainly cheaper than a strike in the long run. And, most of all, they benefit the patients.
"It's something so simple that really could make patient care more effective, more appropriate," she said.
But Gomez said that the hospital has the patient's best interests in mind.
"These are difficult, challenging times," she said.
While Kauai Medical Center nurses are part of the same union, they are not part of the same bargaining unit and will be at work next Saturday, Gomez said.
Elsewhere, in front of the hospital, they are preparing for picketers with extra security. But patients can be assured of a "safe entrance," said Gomez.