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St. Joseph nurses to rally on Thursday in pursuit of a better contract

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About four years ago St. Joseph Regional Medical Center went from a nonprofit to a for-profit hospital. Since then, the nurses have organized into a labor union.

"They wanted to organize because of the changes made by the for-profit company that took over,” said Val Holstrom, Secretary Treasurer of Teamsters Local Union Number 690. “They're concerned about keeping patient care at the highest level."

Holstrom said since then, wages and benefits have been stagnant, the nurse-to-patient ratio has decreased, and the hospital has begun to cut services...such as the nighttime pharmacy.

He also said the hospital is engaging in concessionary bargaining by trying to shorten nurse rest periods from 15 minutes down to 10.

"That isn't going to increase the quality of patient care, that's not going to ensure that the nurses are well rested to maintain that care." Holstrom said.

Concessionary bargaining is when labor unions give up privileges in exchange for job security. However, Holstrom said there hasn't been layoffs up to this point. Instead, nurses have been choosing to leave to pursue better opportunities

He said that's because he estimates St. Joseph Regional Medical Center wages and are around 12 percent behind that of hospitals in Clarkston and Pullman.

"Nurses are leaving to improve their family’s economics," Holstrom said.

With these issues, Holstrom said it is his and the nurses’ opinion that the quality of care has suffered.

“The quality of care is not as good as it was when the new administration took over, and that’s the consensus of our nurses who work there,” he said. “Their number one concern is serving the community and providing the highest level of care possible, but with some of these economic cutbacks, they are concerned that that level of care is diminishing."

In an email KLEW News received Monday, St Joseph Regional Medical Center wrote that they are continuing to negotiate a fair contract that meets the needs of the staff, community, and hospital.

Holstrom said up to this point they haven't budged on spending money.

"They basically said we're not going to agree to anything that would lock the hospital into defied costs in a contract, and with declining reimbursement rates, we have to keep ourselves in a position to keep the doors open," Holstrom said.

Union representatives say the nurses hope to get the hospitals attention at their rally on Thursday, which takes place at pioneer park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Holstrom also recommends that the community show their support to ensure the public can get the best medical care possible.

"You won't find a better group of people trying to take care of this community, and they want to stay and work here," he said.

When reached out for comment, St. Joseph regional Medical Center gave this statement:

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“St. Joseph Regional Medical Center respects the right of nurses to be represented by the Teamsters. We continue to negotiate in good faith and are working toward a fair and sustainable labor contract that meets the needs of our staff, our community and our hospital. Because we remain in active negotiations with the Teamsters, and out of respect for the confidentiality of this process, it would be inappropriate for the hospital to comment on the details of those negotiations.”

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