Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Queen’s, nurses
tentatively agree

The 800 nurses who work
at Queen's will vote on the
settlement tomorrow

By Lori Tighe


Negotiators for nurses at The Queen's Medical Center reached a tentative settlement early this morning after 18 non-stop hours of negotiation, and the 800 nurses who work at the hospital will vote on the agreement tomorrow.

If half of the nurses plus one approve the settlement, the nurses will not strike on Christmas Eve.

"This shows a willingness from both parties to address patient safety and staffing," said Nancy McGuckin, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association. "It bodes well for the community."

McGuckin did not give details of the settlement, but she said it was similar to the one approved by 600 nurses at Kaiser Permanente last week. She also said nurses would see no reduction in benefits.

Queen's spokeswoman Karen Winpenny said today that the hospital was "very hopeful" nurses would approve the settlement.

Other negotiations scheduled this week with federal mediators:

Bullet Kuakini Hospital talks start today at 1 p.m.
Bullet St. Francis Medical Center negotiations resume tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Bullet Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children mediation is tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

McGuckin said the tentative agreement with Queen's was a "good sign" that other bargaining units would reach settlements as well.

Kaiser Permanente nurses ratified their contract last week.

Nurses at Straub approved a contract in October.

Kuakini Hospital's 220 nurses yesterday filed their notice to strike by 7 a.m. Dec. 31, raising the total number of potential striking nurses to 1,900. They include nurses at St. Francis, Kapiolani, Queen's and Kuakini hospitals.

"With mediation scheduled, the nurses at Kuakini felt it imperative that their employers clearly hear how serious they are about the issues of staffing and patient safety," said Marian Marsh, R.N. and chief negotiator for the Hawaii Nurses' Association.

In an efficiency effort, more hospitals are pulling registered nurses away from bedside care and giving the responsibilities to less qualified employees, such as licensed practical nurses, nurse aides and even housekeepers, McGuckin said.

"Under Queen's role redesign, housekeepers are doing R.N. functions such as spiritual care and checking meds (medications) on code carts," McGuckin said, referring to carts used in resuscitation of patients who lose vital signs. "There are quality issues here."

However, hospitals are fighting for their financial lives -- losing $195 million a year, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

"We recognize these are difficult times for hospitals, but where are your priorities?" McGuckin said. "They're cutting at the bedside, and nurses are saying enough already."

Despite the strike notices, other hospitals are hopeful a strike can be avoided.

"We're still optimistic -- the parties are still talking to each other," said Fred Tokoro, negotiator representing Kuakini and St. Francis Hospitals. "The employers are addressing many issues of the unions."

Queen's had arranged to fly in more than 100 registered nurses to care for its patients should its local nurses strike Friday morning.

Kapiolani Hospital also is reviewing temporary nurse agencies to bring in labor should a strike happen, said CEO Fran Hallonquist.

"We're very concerned about the impact of a strike on our patients," she said. "I do remain hopeful. A strike is not the answer if we're truly committed to patient care."

The union is considering filing grievances over the temporary nurses.

Kuakini and St. Francis said they are not considering bringing in temporary employees.

Reporter Susan Kreifels contributed to this report.

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