WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre General Hospital will remain open with all services continuing as unionized nurses conduct a one-day strike today.
Jim McGuire, spokesman for the for-profit Commonwealth Health System, said all emergency services are open and inpatient units and outpatient departments are staffed and available for patient care. All surgeries and diagnostic procedures will continue as scheduled, he said.
“Through a professional staffing agency, the hospital has secured qualified, temporary replacement nurses who are credentialed, licensed to work in Pennsylvania and experienced in the hospital areas where they would be assigned,” McGuire said. “The nurses will also participate in a formal hospital orientation program prior to being assigned nursing duties.”
He said the temporary nurses will work with employees who are not represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) and any nurses who choose to cross the picket line. He said the hospital’s medical staff will continue to treat patients in the hospital as well as in their offices.
The nurses will picket for 24 hours starting today at 7 a.m. Stanley Wielgopolski, treasurer of PASNAP, said the union gave company a 14-day notice of the one-day strike. He said the union recommended the hospital suspend surgeries and procedures for the day, but the hospital decided to bring the “out-of-state” replacement nurses.
A rally is scheduled for noon today and a vigil will be at 5:30 p.m.
“CHS is a multibillion-dollar corporation, yet they are not willing to keep our wages up to standard,” Wielgopolski said. “And they are willing to bring in replacement nurses at $80 per hour or more.”
Wielgopolski said wages and other issues remain unresolved: mandatory overtime shifts, unfilled vacant positions, high cost of benefits and an overall shortage of nurses.
There are between 400 and 500 nurses employed at Wilkes-Barre General, he said.
“We look at the strikebreakers as opportunists,” he said. “They’re flying here to take advantage of someone else’s plight.”
McGuire said the hospital expects a peaceful demonstration on the picket line, but it has taken the precaution of hiring additional security. He said all public hospital entrances and parking areas will remain open and additional security personnel will be posted throughout the facility to assist hospital visitors.
Elaine Weale, president of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association and an emergency room nurse at General for 32 years, said the last time the union called a one-day strike was three years ago. Nurses have been working under the terms of the expired contract since April.
“It’s unfortunate that they feel the need to bring in replacement nurses,” Weale said. “They should be working to settle a fair contract for us.”
Weale said the nurses’ main focus is to improve staffing and to take measures to improve recruitment of quality nurses.
“There is a critical shortage of quality nurses,” she said. “And it will only will get worse. We have to be competitive.”
Bringing in replacement nurses for just one day doesn’t send a good message, Weale said.
“We are ready to settle, but CHS is not,” she said. “We are ready to sit down at the table and try to come to an agreement. But the last time we tried to schedule a meeting, CHS did not respond at all.”
Tennessee-based Community Health Systems owns the North River Street hospital, which according to its website has 412 acute-care beds.