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"Get More Nurses"
by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

Nurses at UPMC-Western Psychiatric stage the first strike known to the UPMC system for three days this weekend (Friday through Sunday) in an effort to get better compensation packages so that they can attract more nurses.

"Get More Nurse...
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The strikers have a friendly atmosphere, offering each other, and even reporters, support and cookies (oatmeal or chocolate chip). But their message is grim, the patients at Western Psychiatric are not getting the care they need because of not enough nursing staff. Loyal nurses to the institution are concerned that when they retire, they will not be replaced. This is all due to substandard packages offered new nurses, and an administration that prefers to hand themselves raises than giving their nurses competitive salaries.

At the present time, the nurses at UPMC are paid "significantly less than our colleagues at area hospitals," according to Susan Forejt, RN, a nurse who has been with Western Psych for the past few years. She commented that psychiatric nursing is a difficult field to recruit new nurses for in the first place, and the salary deficiency is just making it more difficult. At the present time, there is a 21% vacancy rate in the nursing staff at Western Psych, this is three times the vacancy rate at other area hospitals. Nurses at Western Psych work an average of 3 weeks of overtime a year in order to compensate for the vacancy.

The nursing union agreed to a wage freeze in the late 90's when the hospital was not doing as well. The contract that was made from that bargain expired on June 30th, but the administration was unwilling to bargain with the nursing union despite requests starting in late April or early May. The administration did agree to negotiations as of late July, but have stalemated in the past 9 weeks. The union is asking for a 10% wage increase, but the administration originally offered 0% and are now standing firm on 3%. This is an offer the nursing union will not accept when Western Psych has turned a profit of over $4.5 million in the past three years, and has given their administration $1 raises just yesterday (September 9, 2004).

Donna, who preferred to not give her last name, has been working for Western Psych for the past 27 years. She has been uneligible for a raise for 11 years, because of a rule that no one gets a raise after 16 years of employment. However, she is on strike so that she can see more nurses hired, and know that she can be replaced. For Donna, it's about "making it so that new nurses come here and stay."

Also, she complained that "we can't do what we need to do." She commented that normally a psychiatric nurse has the advantage of taking time to take care of the patients, by giving them extra bedding, or other extra attention they might need. However, the nursing staff is so stretched, they don't have time to do anything other than the basics for the patients. Donna complained that this makes for less care for her patients.

Her mother, Jane Krause, also worked for Western Psych as a registered nurse before her retirement. Jane spoke of a time when working for Western Psych was a real treat, and they could donate a lot of time to the care of the patients. But "times have changed," and the nurses just don't have enough time to take this amount of care anymore. Jane is also supporting in the nurses strike to support the nurses, despite having no personal stakes involved.

"We're on strike for our own patients," Forejt commented. The nurses just want to make sure that their patients continue to be given the best care possible, keeping with their rank in the top 10 of nationwide hospitals (the only UPMC hospital with that high of a ranking). They want a more competitive salary package not for themselves, but so that new nurses can be more readily hired and kept on staff. But most of all, they need more nurses so that they aren't stretched so thinly. As Donna commented, "Psychiatric nursing is normally a wonderful specialty, you get to watch patients recover. Right now, it's about just getting the basics done."

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In front of Western Psych
by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

In front of Western ...
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The strike is a line in front of Western Psych, greeting drivers as they pass by.

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Donna and Jane
by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

Donna and Jane...
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This is Donna and her mother Jane. Donna will be retiring soon, and Jane has already retired. Both have worked at Western Psych, and are supporting their fellow nurses.

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Administrative guy or security?
by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

Administrative guy o...
wpsychstrike_002_dce.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x448

This guy was on his cell phone just around the corner from the strike, frequently looking around the corner to keep his eye on the strikers.

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Giving out pamphlets.
by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

Giving out pamphlets...
wpsychstrike_008_dce.jpg, image/jpeg, 448x600

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by gwen Friday, Sep. 10, 2004 at 12:29 PM

wpsychstrike_003_dce.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x448

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 4 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
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