Nurses picket Pottstown Hospital to protest staffing decision
POTTSTOWN » To a chorus of honking car horns, defiant dance music and call-and-response chants, more than 50 nurses and other medical personnel mounted a picket line in front of Pottstown Hospital May 8.
The group, represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Associated Personnel, had a simple-but-multi-level message.
They demanded that: — Hospital owner Tower Health restore the pediatric unit closed by Community Health Systems, the hospital’s previous owners;
— Tower Health settle on a contract with the nurses, who have worked 20 months without one and who want a say in staffing decisions, which they say are making patients unsafe;
— Use some of the $25 million profit the hospital made in each 2016 and 2017 to restore the nearly $1 million in taxes lost by the Pottstown School District when the hospital was taken off the tax rolls.
The past eight months of negotiations with the new employer have been negatively impacted by numerous violations of the National Labor Relations act committed by Tower, according to information provided by the union.
Nurse Rebecca Malfaro said she knows a nurse “with a spotless record” who has been suspended and may be fired for missing one shift “due to a scheduling error.”
“We’re out here to let Tower Health know that Pottstown nurses stand up for their patients,” said nurse Lori Domin.
“We want Pottstown Hospital to know we will not back down when it comes to safe staffing,”she said, noting she was “forced into a situation where I had to care for nine patients in a single shift. That is unsafe.”
Domin said a “staffing ratio” needs to be included in the contract, but hospital negotiators said nurses would “never have a say in staffing.”
“We’re all here so Tower can hear we want them to provide safe staffing for us and for the community,” said Robin Niarhos, who has been a nurse in Pottstown for 12 years.
Mary Adamson, a nurse for 25 years at Temple University Hospital who marched in solidarity with her Pottstown peers — along with members of several other unions — asked “Why is management so afraid to allow nurses to be part of staffing decisions? You can’t pay your nurses $10 per hour less than those at a hospital 30 miles away. You have to stand up to the Goliath in the ivory tower.”
Patty Eakin, statewide president for the union, noted that the salary of a single employee of the “nonprofit” — CEO Clint Matthews — could solve the $1.7 million budget gap faced by the Pottstown School District this year, due in large part to the $1 million in tax revenue lost when the hospital was taken off the tax rolls.
“It is unacceptable that a company paying its CEO Clint Matthews $2.5 million
is refusing to pay its fair share,” said Eakin.
She noted that the Pennsylvania Cost Containment Council, a non-profit state agency, calculated that Pottstown Hospital “posted a $25 million profit for the second year in a row when it was owned by Community Health Systems. Clearly Tower Health has a profitable institution in Pottstown Hospital and should invest in this community and in patient care,” Eakin said.
Debra Bennis, director of marketing and community relations for the hospital,
issued the following statement in response to the labor action by the nurses:
“The management of Pottstown Hospital and Tower Health respects the right of our employees to join unions and to engage in the type of activity taking place today at Pottstown Hospital. The informational picketing is not impacting patient care in any way. All hospitals departments and nursing units are staffed as usual, and all our services at Pottstown Hospital and the physician offices on the Pottstown campus are operating normally. The nurses
who engaged in the picketing did so on their own time. We are negotiating in good faith with PASNAP, and are committed to developing work policies, procedures, and practices that apply equitably to all our employees and that give them the tools needed to provide the best possible care.”
The Nurses at Pottstown Hospital are members of PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, which represents more than 8,000 bedside nurses and healthcare professionals throughout the state.
After rallying along Armand Hammer Boulevard, union nurses and other professionals marched up to the front door of Pottstown Hospital to protest the closing of the pediatric unit, unsafe staffing levels, the $1 million tax loss to the school district and working without a contract for 20 months.
Pottstown Hospital Nurses and others, members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, conduct an informational picket along High Street after working without a contract for 20 months since Tower Health purchased the hospital.
Patty Eakin, RN and statewide President of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Associated Professions, told the pickets that “it is unacceptable that a company paying its CEO Clint Matthews $2.5 million is refusing to pay its fair share.
Picketers in front Pottstown Hospital chanted “1, 2, 3, 4, safe staffing on the floor, 5, 6, 7, 8, Tower must negotiate.”
Nurse Robin Niarhos, who has worked at Pottstown Hospital for 12 years, said staffing levels at the hospital, which made a $25 million profit last year, are creating unsafe conditions for patients.
Saying “you are free to cover the picket,” Pottstown Hospital security officers refused to let reporters covering the informational picket by nurses to park in the hospital parking lot.
Nurses and other medical professionals, who have been working without a contract for 20 months, conducted an informational picket in front of Pottstown Hospital and had no shortage of signs to choose from.