Hospital prepares for strike as talks continue

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Hospital prepares for strike as talks continue

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 4:01pm -- tim

UVMMC President Eileen Whalen, was joined at a press conference Tuesday by (from left) VP for Employee, Patient and Family Experience Laurie Gunn, VP of Hospital Services Dawn LeBaron, and Chief Medical Officer Isabel Desjardins. VBM photo.

UPDATE: No agreement was reached last night and talks will resume later Wednesday to avert a Thursday strike. The two sides sent the following statements late Tuesday night: 

Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals: "After the union responded to all outstanding company proposals, management caucused for an hour and followed up with a proposal via email, intimating they would not be re-joining the nurses. 

"Nurses were unimpressed with the hospital's decision to walk away from the table for the evening. Daniel Luttrell, an RN in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, stated, 'We're not interested in bargaining through email or mediation - we want decision makers at the table'."

UVM Medical Center President Eileen Whalen: “Negotiations with the nurses’ union tonight did not result in an agreement. We will be back at the table at 4 p.m. tomorrow. Our nurses’ union has informed us they intend to go out on strike in less than 36 hours. Should that occur, we are prepared to continue providing high-quality care for our patients and their families. We remain committed to reaching a fair agreement.”

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine On Tuesday afternoon, UVM Medical Center president Eileen Whalen was joined by clinical and operations leaders to outline plans to ensure continued high-quality patient care in the event of a strike, which would be the first of its kind at the hospital. The union representing the hospital’s 1,800 nurses has announced its intention to strike for 48 hours starting on Thursday, July 12 at 7 am if an agreement is not reached on a new three-year contract. Talks will continue this evening in an effort to avert a strike. The nurses union, according to Local22 & Local44 news, has offered a one-year solution to get past the present deadlock, instead of the usual three-year deal they've been negotiating over.

Whalen said that once the strike begins, the replacement nurses will stay through the 48 hours regardless of how negotiations are proceeding.

“We are here today to discuss preparations for an event that we are still actively working to avoid,” Whalen said. “I remain hopeful we can come to a fair resolution that supports our nurses in the incredibly difficult and important work they do so well. We have another opportunity to reach agreement in a few hours when we resume negotiations.”

The hospital has brought in nearly 600 replacement nurses, who have been going through training in case there is a strike. Whalen does not know how much the replacement nurses will cost until the entire situation has played out. The hospital has worked with a placement firm to find the nurses, which are also being housed at local hotels. The hospital has also picked up the travel costs. She acknowledged the cost to the hospital will be significant, especially if there is indeed a strike.

Patients should see little impact, she said. All the regular, acute care and emergency services will be fully staffed. Striking nurses, who will walk the picket line during what would otherwise be their regular shift, will be on non-hospital property, so patients will not have to cross a picket line to get in.

The only reduction in services, Whalen said will be in elective surgery. About 68 elective surgeries (half the usual total) will be rescheduled.

Whalen, who is also a nurse and "remains one at her core," said union nurses are welcome to work during the strike (which the union said is unlikely to occur) and that all nurses will be welcome back after the strike should it occur. If a deal still has not been reached, nurses will work without a contract and decide how to proceed. Further labor action has not been ruled out by the union.

The back-and-forth union talks have been led by women on both sides. A handful of nurses attended the afternoon press conference.

“If we are unable to come to an agreement, we are prepared to continue providing high-quality, safe care to our patients and families during a strike,” Whalen said. “Our community should know that we are ready. The UVM Medical Center will be here to care for you – on Thursday and Friday of this week, and every day after that.”


Average outpatient visits: 3,000 daily/1 million annually

Average # of OR cases (including inpatient and outpatient procedures) 47 daily/17,300 annually.    

Average inpatient census 342 patients per day

Regarding Thursday and Friday operating room procedures:

120 procedures were originally scheduled on July 12 and 13.  68 have been postponed.  Most will be rescheduled in July and early August.

Source: UVMMC

The UVM Medical Center has proposed a wage increase of 13% over the three-year contract, with significant increases beyond that for nurses in certain roles. The union has requested a 23% wage increase over the same period.

In order to move the talks to a fair resolution, the UVM Medical Center has nearly doubled its wage offer from its original proposal; agreed to wage parity between inpatient and outpatient nurses starting in September 2018, rather than phasing it in over three years as originally proposed; and agreed to certain changes in staffing requested by the union. For example, to provide clinical and operational support for staffing units, charge nurses will no longer have patients assigned to them for direct care.

Whalen was joined by Chief Medical Officer Isabel Desjardins, VP for Employee, Patient and Family Experience Laurie Gunn, and VP of Hospital Services Dawn LeBaron, who each outlined aspects of preparation.

Dr. Desjardins said the emergency room and trauma services will all be available 24/7 as always. She noted that some elective procedures have been postponed, but most will be rescheduled within the next month. Outpatient appointments are largely unaffected, and patients with appointments Thursday and Friday are encouraged to keep them. 

“We are also being extra vigilant in our oversight of quality and safety, paying particular attention to risk areas that can affect patient care, such as managing high-risk medications and coordinating handoffs,” Desjardins said with a lilt of a French accent. “The UVM Medical Center’s team approach to high-quality, safe patient care, which involves nurses, physicians and quality experts, will continue in full force during any strike situation.”

Dawn LeBaron, VP of Hospital Services, outlined important information for the community to know about the hospital’s operational plan and the focus on making sure patients and staff feel comfortable receiving and providing care during a potential strike.

LeBaron noted that patients should not expect any difficulty accessing clinics or the hospital in the event of a strike. “We recognize that picket lines may be unsettling,” she said. “But it is helpful to note that we expect picketers to remain on public property, so they will not obstruct our patients’ access to our facilities. The intent of a picket line is to raise awareness and support, but not to interfere with patient care and safety.”

Laurie Gunn, vice president for Employee, Patient & Family experience explained why the hospital is confident nurses being temporarily hired for a potential strike are capable of providing high quality care.

“The nurses we are employing do this for a living,” said Gunn. “They are very experienced nursing professionals who are used to coming into unfamiliar surroundings and performing at a very high level. We are welcoming any of our nurses who want to come to work during a work stoppage, and we will welcome back all of our nurses at the conclusion of it. There are no replacements for our nurses. We value them as an important part of our organization.”

“Our nurses are invaluable members of our care delivery team,” said Whalen. “I’m looking at this experience as an opportunity to improve, a challenge to our leadership team to continue to foster trust and build key relationships.”

About the University of Vermont Medical Center
The University of Vermont Medical Center  is a 447-bed tertiary care regional referral center providing advanced care to approximately 1 million residents in Vermont and northern New York.  Together with our partners at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, we are Vermont’s academic medical center. The University of Vermont Medical Center also serves as a community hospital for approximately 150,000 residents in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. 

Source: BURLINGTON (VT) – UVMMC 7.10.2018