12/11/07

Striking nurses cite greed-caused patient deaths

An ICU nurse at the strikebound Beckley Appalachian Regional Healthcare facility portrayed the 11-week-old contract dispute as a struggle against “corporate greed,” manifested in low staffing levels and forced overtime.

Amy Scott, joined by about 20 other striking nurses from Beckley and Hinton, addressed a Monday news briefing held by West Virginians United For Social and Economic Justice on the 59th anniversary of the United Nations’ declaration of universal human rights.

Nurses struck the ARH chain when their old contract ran out Oct. 1, putting hundreds on picket lines in Kentucky and West Virginia. Scott said the walkout was triggered by “unsafe staffing and mandatory overtime that put patients and nurses at risk.”

Research has shown consistently that higher patient-to-nurse ratios lead to worse outcomes for patients, Scott told listeners gathered at a statue of Sen. Robert C. Byrd in the upper rotunda.

“Patient deaths are being directly attributed to inadequate staffing,” Scott said.

At the Beckley hospital where she works, the registered nurse said a co-worker fell asleep at the wheel en route home from a 16-hour shift and totaled her car in a highway accident.

She said the patient-nurse ratio in the ICU was one to three before the strike and ARH was holding out for 1-to-4 while the national standard was 1-to-2.

“We have bared bad weather, dwindling financial resources, corporate disinformation and lies, and public inattention,” Scott said in describing 71 days on the picket lines.

“But we’re united and remain strong. We know what we’re doing is right. We refuse to place our patients at risk for corporate greed.”

Reflecting on two hot topics in the media — war and national politics — the Rev. Dennis Sparks, head of the West Virginia Council of Churches, suggested smaller government might not be such a good thing, as some are demanding.

“Wouldn’t it be better to have a big government and reduce the size of corporations that are continually fighting our freedoms and taking our freedoms away?” the minister asked.

“I say it’s time we become an America that says human rights of the people are before the incomes, the huge salaries of our CEOs. And let’s get back to what our freedom is about — freedom of the people, and by the people, and for the people.”

(register-herald.com)

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