Philly nurses calls a strike - for the patients

You may have seen the billboards on I-95. The timing is no coincidence. Nurses at Crozer-Chester Medical Center are trying to win support for a move that could be tough on them and their patients. They're preparing to walk the picket line. "Our patients will end up benefiting in the long run," said Amy Cullinan, a nurse for 22 years.

But the short run could mean a three-day strike at Crozer-Chester. Union negotiators are in the final hours of what they say has been a difficult process.

"I think that in the past, we certainly have been further along at this point in the game than we are right now..." said Nurse Teri Evans, who is on the negotiating team.

And with practically no time left to reach a deal. At issue--a hefty increase in the nurses' health insurance premiums. Crozer Keystone Health System, which runs Crozer-Chester Medical Center, wants to double their rates. The other sticking point--the union wants Crozer Keystone to commit to a minimum number of nurses per shift.

"If you don't have an adequate nurse-patient ratio, it's not safe for the patient, it's not safe for the nurse, it's not safe for anyone," said Nurse Mary Trzeciak, VP of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association.

"When you put that call bell on, if you need a pain medicine or if there's a problem, you want that nurse there. You want that nurse there quickly. And how can you be when you have seven or eight other patients," said Cullinan.

Crozer Keystone wouldn't comment. But veteran negotiator Teri Evans explains the impasse this way: "We're really negotiating with, you know, finance people, and I think that's really reflected in what's going on right now."

So what does that mean for patients at Crozer-Chester?

The hospital has several options. It can transfer patients to three other hospitals within its health care system. It can pull nurses from those other hospitals. It can also hire replacement nurses who are willing to cross the picket lines.

No doubt Crozer-Chester will be looking at all those options.

By Claudia Gomez


"Negotiations with PASNAP (PA Assoc. of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals) resumed today and are expected to continue throughout the evening. Both sides are addressing economic issues today and the union has scheduled a ratification vote for tomorrow.

The hospital has notified the union and all members of the bargaining unit that if a strike occurs the nurses will not be able to return to work until we have reached an acceptable ratified agreement.

In the union's materials they describe Crozer nurses as the highest paid Registered Nurses in Pennsylvania as well as enjoying the best benefit package. We are proud to offer our nurses these excellent wages and benefits but we need to balance the needs of the hospital and nurses while ensuring the future viability of the Medical Center.

Our current benefits are excellent but, like all employers, the cost has risen substantially. Our current plan has no physician office or Emergency Department co-pays. Our health insurance costs have increased dramatically over the last several years. Benefit costs rose 83% since 2003 to $52 million by FY 2007.

We have refrained from increasing our employee contributions and co-pays for many years, while other healthcare and non-healthcare employers around us have made increasing adjustments to employee contributions, co-pays and to their plan designs.

Crozer is proposing changes in premium contributions and the addition of co-pays that are consistent with other employers and that address the rising cost of benefits. These increases are reasonable and place Crozer in the middle range of other employers who offer similar benefits. Employees are not restricted to seeking care at Crozer. Employees have access to the extensive Independence Blue Cross AmeriHealth network of physicians and hospitals with a modest deductible.

We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement in time to avoid a work stoppage but in the event of a work stoppage, all hospital services will be open and available to patients and their families including the Emergency Department, the operating rooms, critical care and medical surgical units, pediatrics, psychiatry and outpatient testing."


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