Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Among the issues that nurses on Molokai are striking over is a
requested pay increase of 1 percent, as reflected on the sign
being held by registered nurse Dino Fontes.

No talks scheduled
as Molokai nurses
stay on strike

Issues include staffing, bonuses
and wages, with the nurses asking
for a 1 percent raise

By Rod Antone

There was one moment in Kaunakakai, Molokai, Sunday morning when the registered nurses on the picket lines thought about going back to work. At least for a second.

The moment was at about 9 a.m. when the RNs saw an ambulance leave Molokai General Hospital for the first time since the strike began Saturday.

"They responded with their lights and sirens, and we're all wondering, Oh gosh, we hope it's not that serious," said registered nurse Dino Fontes.

"It was just dead silence," said Hawaii Nurses Association officer Maureen McCarthy, who was there to support picketers. "All the nurses were saying, 'I wonder who it is? I'm so concerned.'"

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, we do know who it is, and we feel kind of bad because we're out here and not in there where we should be," said Fontes.

So far, only one of the hospital's six nurses has crossed the picket line. Molokai General Co-Medical Director Dr. Phillip Reyes said, "We'd be happier if we had all the nurses back to work."

Molokai's RNs went on strike after not being able to settle wage, bonus and staffing issues. The union representing the nurses said that the pay raise they want totals less than $5,000 dollars for all six registered nurses.

"The nurses are not asking for an outrageous pay raise. They are asking for 1 percent," said Sharyn Monet, HNA Education and Practice director. "And they want enough staff that they can do a good job with the patients."

Reyes said he is not aware of any scheduled negotiations this week.

However, he adds, "We remain on call for the federal mediator to get both parties together so that we can work out our differences."

According to Reyes, "the hospital is functioning as usual." However, "one or two" patients have been flown to the Queen's Medical Center, though Reyes does not know whether it was because of the lack of RNs or a situation where the patient would have been sent to Oahu anyway.

"It could have been anything from routine to emergency care," he said.

Molokai General became a part of Queen's Healthcare Systems in 1987 and is the only emergency room and urgent-care clinic for the 7,000 residents and visitors on the island of Molokai.

So far, nurses say response to their situation has been typical of a place nicknamed the Friendly Isle.

"Couple people said, 'How about we get a bunch of people together and raise the money for you guys?'" said Fontes.

"We appreciate that but that's not the issue," Fontes said. "We don't want to put the burden on them, the community."

Reyes said he has heard those comments, too, as well as others.

"People know the hospital is losing money, and given our unemployment rate, some say they're fortunate they have jobs," Reyes said.

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