Fairview nurses strike; hospitals use replacements

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Joanie Sutliff and Pauline Poppler have families and enjoy their days off – things that in the nursing profession have become few and far between. This Sunday, however, these striking registered nurses found the need to picket, heeding a higher calling than relaxation.

Signs reading “Safe Staffing Saves Lives” and “Don’t Cut Corners on Care” were just a glimpse of the scene at Fairview-University Medical Center Riverside Campus, as striking nurses picketed in front of the building.

About 1,300 nurses from the Riverside and Southdale Fairview campuses went on strike Sunday at 5:30 a.m. after a compromise between the Minnesota Nursing Association and Fairview Hospital on contract disputes could not be reached.

“We’re doing this for the future of nursing,” said Sutliff, a registered nurse at Fairview Riverside in the maternity ward, dubbed the Birth Place.

Understaffing and the nurse-patient ratio are main concerns for the nurses, she added.

Poppler, a fellow Birth Place registered nurse, said she agreed completely.

“We have rotten hours,” she said. “We are not staffed to do the quality care we’re used to doing. The patient is suffering in the long run because the administration wants to save money.”

Many people believe the contract dispute is about salary, Sutliff said.

“This strike is not about our wages,” she added. “This strike is about staffing. This strike is about insurance premiums.”

The health insurance premiums Fairview Riverside and Fairview Southdale nurses pay are huge, said Linda Giaziano, a nurse for 34 years. Insurance plans are just one of the issues being discussed in negotiations.

“Nurses do need to be paid more, but the most important issue here is quality health care,” she said.

To deal with the nurse shortage, Fairview has brought nurses from around the country to help out, said Jacquie Luoma, a nurse of 29 years and a member of the Fairview bargaining team.

“The hospitals have been assuring the public that there will be no problems,” Luoma said. “It is not an ideal situation with the visiting nurses not being familiar with the surroundings. It’s not as good as the patients having their own nurses, but it’s a help.”

Mark Enger, Fairview senior vice president and administrator at the Southdale campus, released a statement Saturday addressing the patient care issue.

“Our goal will be to provide 100 percent of our patient care services. We’ll continue to provide high-quality patient care with the help of more than 400 replacement nurses,” he said. “Patients need to know that we’re here and we’re open for service.”

The replacement nurses, from the U.S. Nursing Corp., are expected to work 12-hour shifts, 60 hours a week to cover the striking nurses’ hours.

“These nurses are clinically capable, competent and current,” Enger said.

Orientation sessions to acclimate the new nurses to their surroundings started Thursday with the goal to have the nurses be as comfortable as possible, he stressed.

“We know that the community expects high quality health care,” said Dr. James Breitenbucher, vice president for medical affairs at the University Riverside campus. “These nurses from the U.S. Nursing Corp. are eminently qualified, and we are looking to have business as usual around the hospital.”

Nurses from other hospitals in the area also came to help picket, including nurses from hospitals that had already settled their disputes.

Pat Middlebrook, a retired nurse from Health East, drove from Menomonie, Wisc., to take part in the action.

“I have mixed feelings,” she said. “But I want to have my input into staffing and ratio concerns. Retired nurses are very involved and supportive of what these nurses are doing.”

While it is unclear how long this strike will last, Enger said it could be anywhere from one day to nine months.

Nurses are determined to strike until their needs are met, said Mari Jo Williams, a striking nurse.

Poppler said nurses should ultimately decide their staffing capacity.

“In an ideal situation, nurses would have more say in how many patients they can safely handle.”

Sutliff said that with more patients than ever, the strike should be taken seriously.

“People are sicker than ever in hospitals today,” Sutliff stressed. “It’s acute that we’re not giving them the quality care they deserve with the nurse-patient ratios as they are right now.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]