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A crowd of nearly 200 nurses and their supporters took the streets of Beaver yesterday, following a rally held at the courthouse over stalled contract negotiations with Heritage Valley Health Systems.

Defying both pouring rain and heat, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were joined by representatives of the United Steelworkers, Association of Letter Carriers, and the NAACP, as they at times blocked traffic while marching their way around Third Street in Beaver. Motorists appeared mostly supportive of the spectacle, honking their horns in solidarity and taking fliers being passed through windows by nurses.

The nurses are working under a contract that expires on Sunday, and have been unable to reach an agreement with management despite extensive negotiations. The union says management wants to freeze wages, dramatically increase healthcare costs, rotate nurses into units where they lack expertise or experience, and decrease staffing to levels that could adversely impact patient care.

“I work on the hospital’s psychiatric unit,” nurse Mimi Tambellini told the crowd. “It’s not always the safest place to work. Days can suddenly erupt into violence. Yet we only have 3 nurses on a shift to take care of 32 patients. But really, one nurse is responsible for passing meds for all 32 patients, so I usually end up responsible for 16 patients myself, psychiatric patients.”

“We started these negotiations asking for just one more nurse so we’d have 10 patients each instead of 16,” Tambellini continued. “That’s still a lot of patients for one nurse, but we know these are challenging times. We’re not being unreasonable. We’re trying to make our unit safer and better for both patients and nurses … But one more nurse was too much for Heritage Valley management. They think the current staff is fine even though nurses and patients have been assaulted on our unit.”

Others echoed Tambellini’s concerns, saying nurses are being stretched too thin, and are being forced into unfamiliar units to provide care for patients with medical conditions they are unaccustomed to treating.

Commissioner Joe Spanik also spoke during the rally, warning if something is not done Heritage Valley may end up facing the same problems as Friendship Ridge. “I am asking the management of Heritage Valley to come to the table,” said Spanik. “We are going to lose that hospital, we’re going to lose it,” he later added.

Zach Zobrist, Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union Healthcare PA, led the group as they began to march after the rally. “When patient safety is under attack, what do we do,” shouted Zobrist. “We stand up and fight back,” the nurses chanted. Other chants heard during the march included “Be fair to those who care,” and “We care about your care.”

The SEIU, representing more than 500 registered nurses at Heritage Valley Beaver, has voted to authorize a strike if an agreement can not be reached soon.

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John Paul
John Paul is the founder of the Beaver Countian. He reports full-time for the site, specializing in investigative journalism with an emphasis on public corruption.

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Richard B Decker Jr
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Richard B Decker Jr

Thanks JP for the great article and pictures. hopefully the general public will understand what the Nurses at Heritage Valley are truly up against, these are challenging times for everyone, especially with the Affordable care act coming on-line in 2014, all of the medical professionals are going to be stretched to their limits.

Ivan E.
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Ivan E.

While I support the nurses and think they should be taken care of, health care providers should not strike. When you choose to be a healthcare professional, you are committing to taking care of human beings. You are responsible for lives. You are not some unskilled ditch digger who can throw down their shovel and walk away. While you may be justified in your desire to strike, doing so violates all of the tennants of the position of being a healthcare provider entails. True professionals do not desert their patients. If you want the respect garnered on the healing arts, acting like unskilled union labor will not work. Hope both sides can come to an agreement so as to preserve continuity of care and preserve the dignity of the health system/patient bond.

OhBrother
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OhBrother

The unions got EXACTLY what they voted for! Now SHUT UP and go back to work!

a real regular guy
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a real regular guy

They are working…this was not a picket line…it was a rally, nobody walked off the job

btbear
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btbear

It’s about time that the Unions took a stand against these employers trying to make money hand over fist without giving anything back to the employees. Everyone thinks that they need to work stop complaining. Well, whenever their lives are in danger because they do not have proper staffing and have no way to be protected at the hospital from these situations, things need to change. Heritage Valley has outsourced many jobs at their campuses, and caused hundreds of people who have been there for years to lose their jobs and brought in sup-par replacements that can’t do the job. These people need to stick together and fight for what is right. They need to be compensated and given adequate help to SAFELY handle all situations that arise there. Since security has been outsourced to the new powder blue hall monitors that work there now, there has been many instances where nurses and EMS have had to subdue and control out of control and hostile patients because security is not ALLOWED by their company’s rules. Some ER staff has even been injured and put off work for months due to sustaining injuries dealing with a combative psychiatric patient who came into the ER. Things need to change and they need to change now.

Mike Kelley
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Mike Kelley

Patients and patience are not interchangeable words. It would also be refreshing to see both sides of the story.