More than 1,200 union nurses of Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) held a news conference on Wednesday, July 12th, in Commons Park North located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nurses are rallying as they urge contract negotiations with Allegheny Healthcare Network (AHN) to improve the quality and standards of the nursing profession within their region. Union nurses are also calling for nurses to join them as AHN contracts expire on October 13th, 2023.
Nurses represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania held a rally on Wednesday to comprehensively share their challenges since signing contracts with AHN in 2020, at the start of the pandemic.
“In 2020, we negotiated a tremendous contract, and yet the past three years have been the most challenging of our careers,” states Katrina Rectenwald, union chapter president and an ICU nurse at Allegheny General Hospital. “We’ve watched one experienced nurse after another leave. We’ve been short-staffed. We’ve picked up extra shifts and more shifts on top of that. We’ve trained traveling nurses to do our job for three times the pay. We’ve been assaulted and verbally abused by patients and visitors.”
SEIU Healthcare is one of the largest unions for nurses across Pennsylvania. Over the next year, reports indicate that 4,200 union nurses will represent six different hospitals. Among them are Allegheny General Hospital and Allegheny Valley Hospital, which form part of the Allegheny Health Network.
According to the union, nurses want contract negotiations to address,
Safe staffing is a major key issue that nurses want to manage.
Union president Katrina Rectenwald emphasizes the Patient Safety Act to address safe staffing ratios as a supportive measure for this problem. The legislation establishes a secure standard protocol for all Pennsylvania hospitals and will determine nursing ratios based on patient acuity and caregiver feedback. The bill claims to solve the workforce crisis, save money, and save lives.
Many nurses held signs stating “More Scrubs, Less Suits” or “Scrubs over Suits” during the rally. The union believe they must advocate for their profession in healthcare decisions and are encouraging more nurses to take action in contributing to these contract negotiations.
“They’ve had three years to fix the nursing crisis,” Rectenwald shares. “They have not been able to deliver on that. So we are going to be coming up with the latest solutions for nurses that are formulated by nurses.”
Statements from the union
One nurse participating in the rally said: “In the wake of the COVID pandemic, insufficient staffing and nearly unmanageable nurse-to-patient ratios have forced nurses away from the bedside or from the profession altogether in numbers, unlike anything we have seen before.”
Cameron Herbst, an oncology nurse at Allegheny General Hospital, is concerned about continuing his career at the bedside, especially as a new nurse, because of the numerous issues he encounters each shift. The main one – staffing.
“I come home after every shift exhausted. And as a young nurse, still new to the profession, I don’t know how I will have the energy to continue this effort for years down the road,” Herbst shares.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing completed a national-level survey evaluating the nursing workforce and its impact from the pandemic. Data estimates 800,000 RNs will leave the force by 2027 due to burnout, stress, and workloads.
Herbst added: “We are hemorrhaging nurses at the bedside, and we can’t train new nurses quickly enough to meet the needs of patients. This increases the responsibilities and competing demands on a nurse’s time as we are asked to do more and more.”
Statements from Allegheny Health Network
In response to the nurse rally, Allegheny Health Network spokesperson Dan Laurent, said in a statement:
“At Allegheny Health Network, we respect the right of our employees to organize and participate in related activities that do not interfere with the operations of our hospitals and our ability to provide high-quality health care services to our patients and the community.”
Laurent claims the system is willing to support its employees. AHN does not give any specific details about the negotiations they are leaning to present to their workers; however, Laurent added, “We are committed to offering employees at every level — including both represented and nonrepresented members of the workforce — wages and benefits that are fair and competitive in the market, and a work-life experience that is fulfilling and conducive to the delivery of high-quality health care services. We are committed to bargaining in good faith with our represented employees to reach agreements that live up to those standards.”
At this time, there is no date for when contract negotiations will resume.