The nurses at the only hospital in Armstrong County in Pennsylvania decided to walk off the job to express their frustration with management and what they see as unsafe working conditions. They recently watched 40 of their colleagues leave the hospital after landing jobs with better pay, usually up to $6 or more than what they were making before, but the recent turnover has left the remaining nurses dealing with a painful reality.
Watching Them Go
Around 220 nurses announced they are going on strike after failing to reach a contract agreement with management. They started picketing at 7 AM on Sunday morning in the frigid cold and plan to continue striking until the end of the week.
Speaking with some of the nurses on the ground, most of them reported feeling burned out, underappreciated, and undervalued.
The nurses said they were in the middle of negotiating a contract with management, but the terms they provided were too similar to the status quo without providing adequate protections, so the nurses rejected the offer and went on strike.
They are asking for more investments in the hospital along with safe staffing levels and better retention rates.
“What we’re asking for is to be respected and valued,” said nurse Jerry Dunn. “We’re having nurses leave this hospital in droves to other facilities. We’re asking for competitive wages, we’re asking for them not to pull our call-off language from our contract that’s been in it for the last 20 years, and we’re asking not to be pulled into departments that we’re not comfortable working in. It’s just not safe for our patients.”
The hospital is disputing some of the nurses’ claims, arguing that more compensation isn’t needed.
“As for compensation, ACMH recognized the importance of recruiting and over four months ago presented the most lucrative and aggressive wage proposal in its history,” the hospital said in a statement. “The increase in wages in the first year of the contract range from 7% to 12% depending on years of experience, followed by a 4.5% increase in the second and third years. There are also increases to a number of premium pays in the compensation proposal.”
The hospital says the nurses’ union didn’t present any staffing alternatives during the negotiation process, adding “the union did not propose any changes to the staffing guidelines during the negotiations.”
The hospital says patient care isn’t being affected by the strike.
During a demonstration on Sunday, nurse Sandy Harrison addressed the crowd of enthusiastic supporters.
“The nurses have faithfully met and were extremely patient with the administration during the negotiations. Our patients, our community and our nurses deserve better,” Harrison said. “Our voices need to be heard. We want respect, we want recruitment and we want retention because we are worth it.”
The nurses also said they would rather be inside caring for their patients, but they won’t quit until the contract gets resolved.
“We don’t want to be out here,” president of ACMH Nurses United Cassie Wood said. “We want to be inside with our patients, many of whom are our friends and neighbors. We’re not abandoning them, we walked out to protect them.”
The hospital also took issue with the claim that hospital CEO John Lewis received a $600,000 bonus in 2020. “This is simply false,” hospital officials said.
State Rep. Austin Davis, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, was also on hand Sunday to show his support for the nurses.
“I speak for millions of Pennsylvanians who say ‘thank you,’” he said. “But we have to do more than just say ‘thank you.’ We have to pay you.”
Another nurse Nikki Kemp held up a “Honk for Nurses” sign to show her support.
“They deserve a contract that will allow to recruit and retain nurses,” Kemp said.
ICU nurse Kayley Baker said losing even one nurse can make a big difference on the floor.
“When a nurse leaves, you’re not just losing a body. You’re losing continuity of care, education, experience, familiarity with the hospital, and connection with the care team. I hear my name 800 times a shift because the majority of the ICU unit is now staffed by agency nurses who don’t know where anything is or how the hospital works,” Baker said. “You know who suffers all those losses? The patient. And our community.”