Thursday, December 16, 1999

St. Francis nurses may strike

Better nurse-patient ratios, wages
and benefits and a layoff freeze are
sought by the day after Christmas

By Lori Tighe


St. Francis Hospital's registered nurses plan to strike the day after Christmas unless the hospital lowers the ratio of patients to nurses.

If the 420 nurses strike, "elective surgeries will be curtailed," said Nancy McGuckin, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association.

The strike would also include emergency room nurses, she said.

St. Francis nurses, which include home care, dialysis and hospice, added their 10-day strike notice alongside Queen's Hospital nurses, who filed their strike notice earlier this week.

"RNs are being removed from the bedside. Nurses are obviously and significantly worried about patient care enough to risk their own economic well-being," McGuckin said.

Hawaii hospitals are teetering on the financial brink, losing $195 million a year due to slashed Medicare payments, according to a recent study released by the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Nurses prepare signs yesterday to be used on a picket line in
case of a strike at the Hawaii Nurses Association office in the
old Gold Bond Building on Ala Moana.

Most health care facilities have seen their profit margins sink to zero, and some operate in the red, the association said.

The public has questioned why the nurses would strike during the holidays. McGuckin blamed the hospitals.

"Our contracts expire Nov. 30. We've tried to get employers to move that date for years, and they've refused," McGuckin said.

The hospitals have had the nurses' contract proposal since August, she added.

A strike would hit the hospital at a busy time, said Maggie Jarrett, St. Francis Hospital spokeswoman.

"Normally, we slow down around the Christmas holiday, but our (patient) census is unusually high right now," she said. "We don't know why."

Currently, St. Francis has a ratio of six to eight patients per nurse, McGuckin said. Nurses want it lowered to five to six patients per nurse.

In 1993 and 1996, nurses initiated the issue of patient load, but employers avoided discussing it, she said.

Bert Kido, representing St. Francis in negotiations, was reached at home last night but refused to comment about how the hospital will respond to a strike.

Fred Tokoro, the prime negotiator for the hospital, couldn't be reached for comment.

Five hospitals are currently negotiating contracts for 2,500 unionized nurses: Kaiser Permanente, Queen's, Kapiolani, St. Francis and Kuakini.

If an agreement isn't reached at Queen's by Christmas Eve, 800 registered nurses plan to strike.

In addition to better nurse-patient ratios, nurses seek improved wages and benefits and a layoff freeze. Registered nurses in Hawaii on average earn $26.43 an hour and received a 2 percent raise a year ago.

Kaiser Permanente's 600 nurses reached a tentative contract agreement Sunday and plan to vote on it today. The agreement addresses union concerns about health coverage upon retirement, wage increases and job cuts, McGuckin said.

Kaiser negotiations were simpler than at the other hospitals, she said.

"Kaiser did not have the radical type of staffing issues that the others did, particularly at Queen's and St. Francis."

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