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Posted at 1:01 PM ET, 06/28/2010

Nurses reject Wash. Hosp. contract

By Washington Post editors

The union representing 1,600 registered nurses at Washington Hospital Center voted overwhelmingly over the weekend to reject a new contract.

The vote, which came after three months of negotiations, was 987 to 21.

The nurses are now working without a contract; their current contract expired June 19.

The union, Nurses United of the National Capital Region, had made safe staffing levels the key issue in 13 weeks of negotiations, union officials said. In a statement released Monday, the union said there is "continuing evidence that short staffing in nearly every department of the facility has created conditions that negatively affect patient care and patient safety."

Last week, more than 1,000 nurses signed a petition expressing a vote of "no confidence" in the hospital's management. If management is unwilling to work with the union, the statement said, the nurses will begin preparing for a strike vote.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said management is committed to reaching an agreement.

"The leadership of Washington Hospital Center is extremely disappointed that our nurses have voted to reject our proposed three-year contract," officials said in a statement. "However, rejection of the contract does not mean that there will be a work stoppage.

"We firmly believe our proposal is fair in light of the economic challenges and realities of health care today. We proposed a best-in-class staffing model, which places our patients first, and allows us to work in partnership with the nurses’ union. As part of this staffing model we must consider the unique resources, care, needs and acuity in each nursing unit. We hope to resume negotiations with Nurses United to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that accomplishes our common goal of providing the highest level of patient care."

Medstar Health, the Columbia-based nonprofit healthcare system that owns the hospital center and several other hospitals in the region, named Joy Drass to be acting chief executive of the hospital center June 19.

-- Lena Sun

By Washington Post editors  | June 28, 2010; 1:01 PM ET
Categories:  DC  
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Management's proposal is "fair?" On the contrary. Management's position is to cut wages and benefits. All while a nursing shortage exists and somehow the hospital can find $1+ million/year to pay the president. NOT FAIR!

Posted by: Daffodil123 | June 28, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

With all of the people losing their jobs and taking pay cuts, why do these nurses seem to think they are immune from the economic realities that affect the rest of us? Hospitals are in trouble. Everyone needs to tighten the belt. That's the way it works.

Posted by: powelljack | June 28, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Nurses are showing us the way on patient safety. February witnessed the Texas criminal trial arising out of two nurses, Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle, having reported atrocious "medical" practices to the Texas Board of Medicine. In March, the nurses union at Temple University Hospital refused to sign a contract with a clause preventing the union from publicly raising patient safety concerns at the hospital. This past month, Minnesota and California nurses have voted to strike over high patient to nurse ratios that threaten patient safety, citing studies that better ratios provide safer care. Now the Washington, D.C., nurses have to risk their livelihoods for safe staffing levels.

Nurses are the ones willing to risk what they have for our safety. Nurses enjoy less pay and prestige than physicians and hospital administrators. Nurses regularly staff the evening and midnight shifts, make sure we receive our medications, and clean up our bodily fluids. Was it their devotion to our well being that attracted nurses to the profession? Or did their seeing how nursing care made a difference what empowered them to risk their jobs for our safety? When it matters, the nurses are the ones who take risks to speak up for patient safety.

These voices come from the same profession that inspired the phrases we use to describe intense care for the weak and the ill: "nursing homes," "newborn nurseries," and "nursing back to health."

One conclusion is indisputable: it is the nurses who have been standing up for us all along.

Posted by: LeeTilson | June 28, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Powelljack-hospitals and other 24/7 health care places CAN'T "work" the way other places of employment do. These nurses are standing up for the LIVES of their patients. Everyone ought to be glad about that because we never know when we might be the patient. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a hospital where my nurse had so many other patients, it was impossible to tend to me, would you? Really?

Posted by: 1citizen | June 29, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

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