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Englewood nurses lockout: Media wars?

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Before bellying up to the bargaining table with the nurses union this morning, officials at Englewood HMC made an interesting choice: They brought the media into the hospital to interview patients and staff.

During nearly three decades as a newspaperman, a third of that time as an editor, I rarely experienced such accommodation from most hospitals. Formal requests were required. HIPAA regulations were cited. Guards stopped you at the door.

Now, I have nothing against Englewood Hospital. Several of my family members were born there. My mom received very good treatment there before she died of cancer seven years ago.

Many of the nurses have remained outside while the 650-member Health Professionals and Allied Employees union hit a roadblock with hospital negotiators over salary, staffing and other issues.

“It is just so frustrating,” a veteran nurse at Englewood confided. “It the nurses who give the hospital its awards. And yet ‘they’ think a nurse is just a nurse.”

Given the tenor of the times, she said, the nurses have had to be extremely careful about what they say publicly.

“We work as a team — out to protect the patient and ourselves,” she said, echoing the opinions of other nurses who have contacted me.

Some politicians have shown up outside the hospital to champion their cause — and we’ll leave it at that.

Yet while dozens of nurses stood in the pouring rain yesterday, the hospital produced its own special showing for the media, complete with a newborn baby and parents.

One of the resulting reports was that things were humming along as usual at the hospital, as if there hadn’t been a lockout when the regular nurses showed up for work — without a contract — on Wednesday.

“EH buys the ads, so they’re steering the coverage toward the hospital,” one nurse said.

Details of the issues on the table vary, depending on whom you talk to.

Even when asked about the nurses’ average annual salary, both sides differ: The hospital says it’s $100,000 with overtime; the union says it’s closer to $80,000.

The hospital says the nurses work too much overtime. The nurses say hiring some more hands would help.

Hospital officials say that would cost too much. Just look at all the hospitals struggling to stay in business. Besides, they’ve cited a state staffing standard they say the hospital has met.

EHMC would rather increase the number of patients each nurse is responsible for. Issue solved, they say.

Or is it?

“Staffing equals safe care. Staffing equals less expense, in overtime and payouts against malpractice,” a veteran nurse confided. “The more defensive you are, the safer you are in your practice.”

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