For almost six weeks the nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia have been on the picket line to gain better care for their patients at great personal cost. The 700 nurses, members of the United American Nurses (UAN), have been on strike at nine ARH hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia since Oct. 1. The nurses are concerned that management’s staffing decisions and rampant mandatory overtime are preventing them from giving patients the best possible care. In contract negotiations, ARH is proposing modest pay raises but then is demanding to cut holiday pay and increase health care premiums, effectively wiping out the raises.
Geri Jenkins, RN of the National Nurses Organizing Committee says, "These nurses in Kentucky and West Virginia aren't striking for themselves or for their patients," said Geri Jenkins. "They are striking to improve the care that every patient in this country receives. When a patient enters the hospital, they should know that there will be adequate staff and safe patient care procedures to take care of them. Whether they're in Appalachia or anywhere else, we will not stand by and watch hospital owners cut corners on patient care in order to pad their bottom line."
"We don't like sitting out here anymore than the people that are inside like to look out and see us out here," nurse Elizabeth Mills said.
"We average six patients per nurse, and we average eight in the evenings," Mills, a nurse at Harlan Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospital said. "It has been up to 10 or 11."
"The personal attention, you can't give it to them, because you don't have time during your shift," Mills said. "You don't have time to sit and talk and discuss and find out what's really going on with them, because you're too busy."
To show support for the striking nurses representatives from nursing organizations in several states demonstrated at Appalachian Regional Healthcare's corporate offices in Lexington, West Virginia on Friday.
The Lexington Herald reported nurses from California, Washington state, New York, Oregon and Ohio, waved signs and chanted outside ARH's offices on Executive Drive, and made an unsuccessful attempt to speak with company officials. They later left in a caravan, bound for various ARH hospitals in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.
The nurses stopped in Hazard, where tensions have been running high between those inside the hospital and those on strike.
A skeleton sitting in a lawn chair wearing a Santa hat greets cars as they drive into or past the hospital. The sign it holds reads: "My nurse was a scab."
The traveling nurses joined those on the picket line -- holdings signs and chanting messages in support. They waved at passing cars who honked in support.
"It's been tough," said Wilma Jones, president of the Hazard unit of the Kentucky Nurses Association. "It's so uplifting to have their support."
Other unions including the United Mine Workers and the United Steel Workers have been out in support and provided bag loads of food to the strikers.
This is the second strike against Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospitals this year.
Back in April, nurse's assistants, lab technicians, and other support staff walked out.
The following is a press release from United American Nurses, AFL-CIO.
BECKLEY, W.Va., Nov. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The nearly 700 striking nurses at Appalachian Regional Health Care (ARH), represented by the Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses Associations/United American Nurses, AFL-CIO, are speaking out to call public attention to the underhanded and violent tactics exhibited against them by the hospital during their strike, which began Oct. 1. ARH has escalated its intimidation of striking nurses from hired security guards on the picket lines who routinely harass nurses to video surveillance of striking nurses to, it now appears, orchestrating the burning of the car of one of the union staff on hand to assist the nurses.
A union representative left the picket line at the Beckley, WV, ARH facility Sunday night for his car and discovered after driving a short distance that he had a flat tire. He returned to the picket line for assistance, and when he and others returned to his car, they found it ablaze with brush that had been doused in flammable liquid. Attempts to report the incident to police were met with a response that the department was closed for the Veterans Day holiday and that the detective was not available. Nurses are demanding the mayor provide more protection for the RNs on the line -- protection the police so far have not provided.
"We are stunned. Violent, threatening actions like this are beyond the pale," said Ocie Helton, RN, who is the local president of the West Virginia Nurses Association union at Beckley-ARH. "Registered nurses who are out on this picket line to stand up for patient care are being repaid with threats to our lives. What if next time someone is in the car that is set on fire? Working women and men are literally under attack in Beckley and risking our lives to speak out for our patients.
"The word on the picket line is that this must have been the work of someone associated with ARH. We don't have evidence yet that that's the case, but we call on the police to make a full investigation of this and prosecute whoever the guilty party is to the fullest extent of the law. We also call on ARH to disavow this kind of criminal behavior and get rid of security forces that are harassing nurses on the picket lines."
The United American Nurses, AFL-CIO, the collective bargaining affiliate of the American Nurses Association, is the nation's largest RN union, representing more than 115,000 nurses and including 27 state nurses associations or collective bargaining program affiliates.
web page: http://www.uannurse.org/
United American Nurses, AFL-CIO