Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Nurses’ settlement
may establish

Patient safety standards
adopted yesterday by Queen's
Hospital may set local
and national standards

By Lori Tighe


Queen's Hospital nurse Pat McLachlan put her feet up at home after the toughest fight of her profession.

"I've been nursing for 40 years, and I've never seen a battle like this," she said last night.

"It was a good victory."

The patient safety standards Queen's Hospital negotiated yesterday should avert a Christmas Eve strike of 800 registered nurses. It also may set the national standard, said McLachlan, who participated in the negotiations for the union.

The nurses were to vote on the settlement today.

The Queen's agreement could also set the tone for the ongoing negotiations with the remaining three hospitals: Kapiolani, St. Francis and Kuakini. The next strike deadline is at St. Francis on the day after Christmas. Negotiations are scheduled for today with St. Francis and tomorrow with Kapiolani.

St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett is optimistic that an agreement will be reached today. However, the hospital has begun taking precautions.

Since Monday, all elective surgeries and admissions requiring a hospital stay past Sunday have been postponed. In addition, physicians were asked to begin preparing to discharge any patients who can safely and appropriately leave the hospital, Jarrett said.

The Queen's tentative contract includes principles and guidelines set by the American Nurses Association to assess the sickness of patients. This will more accurately help match registered nurses to patient needs.

"The contract language is better than the language of East Coast hospitals who went on strike," McLachlan said

Queen's also threw out its work role redesign, which took registered nurses away from bedside care and replaced them with less qualified staff, said Nancy McGuckin, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association. The redesign would have ultimately decreased registered nurses, who are higher paid, she noted.

"They wanted to put us behind desks and bury us with paperwork. We got into this profession to care for people. That is the heart of nursing," McLachlan said.

The nurses, earning an average $26.43 an hour, will also receive a 2 percent raise the first year, a 3 percent raise the second year and a 3 percent raise the third year.

But pay wasn't the central issue at the table, McLachlan said; patient safety was.

This settlement really took 12 years to reach, she said.

"Patients have gotten sicker. Supplies have gotten shorter. Patients are spending less and less time in the hospital," she said. "We have infections that are stronger and more resistant to medications. Nurses have been patient, giving people. It takes a lot to make us angry. The work role redesign did it."

Queen's Hospital spokeswoman Karen Winpenny said she could not comment further on the settlement until the nurses vote on it today.

"We're hopeful it'll be ratified," she said. "The big word is 'hopeful.'"

Star-Bulletin reporter Treena Shapiro contributed to this story.

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